Many people in the African community have stories of negative experiences with healthcare and social service professionals, and their frustration with the limited/opening hours and inconvenient locations of clinics, services and agencies. CHAT’s outreach programs try to address these barriers by taking information, services and resources out into the community where people live, hang out and socialize. Knowing these points to reach the target group provides opportunities for our outreach workers to intervene at critical moments when ‘risk behaviours’ are more likely to occur. Some of our outreach programs operate out of fixed sites (satellite points such as libraries, hairdressing salons, hostels etc and social venues including clubs, late night parties) and community members go there instead of having to go to a regular office or clinic to receive for example condoms.
Our Outreach service is a crucial component for our HIV prevention programs and for programs for people who have risky casual sex mostly under the influence of drug and alcohol and for those commercial sex workers. It’s our way of delivering services outside of the traditional office setting and a way of making contact with people who are not connected with formal services including hidden immigrants who are not registered with GPs surgeries and also cannot be reached by the statutory sector including GUM clinic officials. Our Outreach service penetrates into hidden and marginalized communities, expand the scope of services and deliver information and services to a greater number of people—all critical to helping reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
CHAT’s Outreach programs target at-risk user networks and/or individual sex workers and drug users, enabling information and materials to be spread throughout the community informally via outreach workers and their contacts. Our Outreach workers typically provide services and materials to individuals, engage in one to one confidential discussions with individuals in non official, non judgemental and non intimidating but friendly/relaxed settings about risky practices to reduce HIV-related risks and to address health and social problems related to sex, drug use or any other risky habits. Modifying the risk behaviours of individuals often lead to changing social norms within user networks helping to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs for individuals and by extension, within the broader community.
Through their relationships with people in the community, our outreach workers are able to connect people with formal supports or with healthcare services, and help them sustain these connections. Often, inexperience sex workers move in and out of this practice, counselling programs, treatment and healthcare services. Support from our outreach workers help to break this cycle and contribute to more effective, ongoing care and where possible support them into jobs, hence moving them from prostitution into a better safe and respectable lifestyle.
From our experience, to prevent an epidemic from spreading and becoming more difficult to combat, outreach programs need to be implemented as soon as possible and efforts need to be sustained over time. Best outcomes from our outreach service include:
Gaining the trust of people especially those who are hard to reach in the community.
Reaching people who need information and resources (e.g. condom) most on HIV/AIDS and their networks.
Conducting outreach in times when risk is greatest (for example, in the evenings when social activities are its peak).
Providing multiple means for behaviour change, including information, equipment and referrals.
Exposing community outreach workers to see and avert from engagement of such risky practises themselves knowing the harm it can cause.
Building strong community bridge linking the statutory sector, hard to reach community and other social networks such as the faith community to work together to address multiple community health issues .
Being the voice for the voiceless community.
Creating, or advocating for, a policy environment that supports HIV prevention programming.
We organise these events to update a large number (ranging from 20-1000 plus) of people to share in-depth sexual health knowledge using specific topics to trigger discussion. We use this medium to sensitise the community on relevant sexual issues using highly qualified presenters to educate the participants instilling faith in the work we do and receiving community feedback to support the work we do. These sessions are organised in schools, colleges, universities and in faith groups.
Benefits of these sessions include:
A wealth of knowledge usually, presented by professional speakers at one time in one place to a large number of people. A lot of “learning” at one clip, with most material compressed into two or three days’ worth of time.
A sense of camaraderie, where individuals can meet others with the same interests/problems/concerns that they may have in their chosen field or in their individual lives.
A sense of renewed hope and inspiration as sometimes individual health or personal concerns are reduced by sharing experiences with others in our events. Being with others that “understand” individual’s problems or concerns, is usually a great morale booster!
CHAT does not work in isolation to achieve success. Largely we work with the target community by working with Faith and Community Leaders, African community groups and associations, other voluntary organisations, families and friends etc. We work with local Schools, Colleges and Universities as well as local Libraries to enable us reach our target community. Where possible, we work with small local radio stations to extend our messages to the wider audiences. CHAT have been working with local hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries, Pharmacies and community health centres.
We also work with businesses such as barber shops, mini cab stations, hair dressing saloons, Supermarkets, housing associations, hostels, restaurants, clubs Bed & Breakfast outlets. We also have good working relationship with the local Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) and Community Voluntary Service (CVS) an organisation with a minimum membership of 30 organisations. Through experience, we know by building strong trusted and reliable community networks helps us to reach deep at grass-roots level to communicate effectively with the target community with our health messages for maximum impact and successful outcomes. By regular contact with the grass-root community we build the trusted relationship with individuals and the community at large enabling community members to reach us with personal information and needs which they may not have the confidence to share with staff in the statutory sector.