Nigerian grantee Queer Alliance is targeting the MSM community (men who have sex with men) through their ‘Helping Ourselves Together’ (HOT) project. Project leader Rashidi Williams spoke to SAF about their grant.
1. Who are your beneficiaries in your project and why have to chosen to select this target population?
Our beneficiaries are men who have sex with men (MSM) and men who don’t necessarily identify as gay and bisexual. And the reason we are targeting these people is because of the terror in which they practise their sexual preferences.
In Nigeria today you have repressive and discriminatory laws that criminalise people on basis of their sexual orientation gender and identity, and based on their sexual practises. These people don’t have access to HIV information, prevention and treatment, services and information because it’s out of their reach.
Queer Alliance is working with MSM and gays and bisexuals. We are not the first organisation to do this in Nigeria, but when Queer Alliance was established we felt that HIV prevention was only focused in major cities so we decided to move into inner cities in Nigeria in the south. We also use our HOT Project to educate about human rights and train health care workers.
2. What is the HOT Project and how is it perceived in the community?
The project is very much encouraged by MSM because it’s something they been looking forward to and they’ve never seen before. Like I said earlier, HIV prevention services for MSM have been concentrated in the major cities of Nigeria, such as Lagos, Abuja, Calabar. Even in some cities, teaming populations of men who have sex with men have disenfranchised HIV prevention services, so this is the reason why we decided to work with these people in the inner cities of this country so that have access to HIV information and prevention, treatment and support care services, because we need to address these issues and work with these people in these geographic zones. It contributes to efforts in mitigating the prevalence of HIV among MSM, so HIV projects are not focused in major cities.
3. You say that this project is warmly received, so how important is this SAF grant for the MSM community?
The SAF grant has actually propelled our mission, it’s propelled our vision. I’ve seen the objectives of the organisation come to fruition. Since we were established in 2008 and came into the community in 2009 we have struggled to get funding from larger organisation but the SAF fund came when we needed it the most and it actually came when we decided to shift our focus from Lagos to inner cities of Nigeria Delta state.
SAF have contributed to make our dreams come true as an organisation and not only come true for the organisation but also meeting the needs of the MSM in Delta State. These people are very happy and they are always happy to come for monthly literacy sessions, and not just to talk about HIV and AIDS, but issues that affect them and how they can be helped around these issues but also talk about HIV and AIDS prevention because that’s the main objective of the project.
We don’t just want to make our literacy session monotonous and boring; we want to also add some value to it so we look into other things that are relevant to community members MSM. For instance, when we first had our monthly literacy sessions it was tied to ‘It’s My Life’. We looked at decision making, we look at negotiation skills, we talk about sexually transmitted diseases, and we talked about the connection between sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and AIDS. And we talked about HIV transmission among the MSM community and how we can protect ourselves and not get infected, and if we are infected, how not to get re-infected.
At the end of the day we do condom demonstrations and give them condoms and also lubricants. Because lubricants are not accessible among the MSM community in these regions, so we give out lubricants to people that come to these literacy sessions and they can tell the MSMs who are not privileged to come to these sessions, that there’s something going on in Delta State. This is what we do and it has been embraced.