FAITH (Friends Affected & Infected Together in Hand) is a not for profit, non-governmental organisation working on behalf of socially marginalized and vulnerable populations. It is a national level women-led organization i.e., women are in decision making positions like on the executive board, as general members, in its secretariat.
FAITH grew out of a national movement that fought to ensure access to health rights of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and people who use drugs (PWUD). Early 2000, many in the community were becoming severely ill and in many cases, dying from AIDS. FAITH was born during this time, in 2005, with a mission to create a community of people infected with HIV and those affected by it: friends and family. From the very beginning, founders of the organisation made a conscious effort to focus our efforts for advocacy and lobbying policymakers, donors, and other strategic actors to create a favourable policy environment for people living with HIVrather than services deliver.
The combined and dedicated efforts of organisations, including FAITH, have resulted in substantial expansion of HIV services and equally important, provided hope to countless more – that people living with HIV can lead fulfilling and productive lives. While this was a major achievement for us and our community, we were compelled to do more. As evidence mounted that many people living with HIV are vulnerable to and, in many cases, dying from Tuberculosis (TB), we responded.
Similarly, we were pioneers among our peers in tirelessly advocating for the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of our beneficiaries. In addition, we are now also focusing on the economic empowerment of our beneficaries and prevention of gender-based violence to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This journey has taught us a lot about ourselves, the community we serve and ways to make the government responsive and accountable to our communities. We will continue to challenge the status quo through art, music, and technology. We intend to draw on our experiences and lessons to lead the change – through innovation – towards a transformed society with positive attitudes towards gender, sexuality, reproductive rights.
Empowering the community
FAITH’s approach from the very beginning has been to empowering the community we serve. Hence, we called ourselves Friends Affected & Infected Together in Hand and we carried this ethos through every component of our organisation. It has helped us to stay connected to the community we serve and be true to our mission. From the very beginning, we have demanded that we are part of each decision-making process that impacts our lives.
We believe in shattering stigma. We do not accept a world that discriminates people based on their illness, gender, or profession. We have confronted people’s biases, sexism and racism by continuing to push this agenda at the national stage. We are known for staging provocative events such as, the nude art exhibition titled, ‘Expression of Repression’ as well as academic conferences (3rd National AIDS Conference) and hosting national level advocacy events (World AIDS Day, National conference of Female Sex Workers)to initiate dialogue about stigma, discrimination and denial of basic human rights.
Using new media and pop culture
We have been at the forefront of using technology and pop culture to reach large number of people. We have used documentaries, television/radio Public Social announcement, short film to educate the larger public and policy-makers about HIV, Tuberculosis, and sexual and reproductive health and promoting positive role models with profound impact.
We recognise the importance of network organisations that share in our vision. From the very beginning, we have played a key role in giving rise to formal networks, sustaining them, and keeping them accountable to the people they serve. As we look ahead, we play a catalytic role in organizing communities of people and organisations and equip them with the tools to advocate for their rights.
Exploring beyond HIV
The scopeof our organisation continues to expand along with the evolving needs of the community we serve. The problems faced by people living with HIV are shared by the society at large and guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal: access to comprehensive health services, gainful employment, adequate nutrition, educational opportunities, clean and healthy environments, among others. We see ourselves working across multi-sectoral actors to ensure that minorities and marginalised populations can live healthy and fulfilling lives. These ideas are consistent with the prevailing Sustainable Development Goals, National Health Policy, National Health Sector Strategy and other such policies.
At FAITH, along with our stakeholders, we have developed four strategic priorities that are important to achieving our vision. These represent areas where we must focus our efforts and assign resources. They build on our core strengths – innovation, advocacy and social mobilization – while expanding the work to mission-critical areas. It also commits us to being creative, agile, always learning and prepared to take risks to accelerate transformations in the society around us and beyond.
Successfully implementing our priorities will require us to invest in ourselves and lean on our distinct assets – our staff, board, and the larger, supportive community – as we seek to:
1. Design breakthrough and innovative campaigns for advocacy
We are recognized by our peers for innovative use of media platforms to draw national attention to important issues. As an organization, we will continue to invest in innovation – through art, theatre, documentaries – that confront harmful stigma and discrimination while promoting positive role models for the impacted communities. We also recognize that we need to pursue lasting partnerships with organizations that see the promise of new forms of media to shatter stigma associated with sexuality, gender, or people living with HIV, TB and other marginalized populations.
2. Advance Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Sex is still taboo. Parents don’t speak to children about it, teachers shy away from it and our textbooks skip the topic entirely. This can lead to unsafe and unhealthy sexual beliefs and practices, and, in cases, promote unhealthy relationships among partners. In extreme conditions, it can lead to discrimination and violence against women including female sex workers, sexual minorities. We believe it is important to expand our scope to advance the sexual health and reproductive rights agenda.
3. Mainstream Gender
As a community, we have made notable progress in raising awareness about HIV and achieving universal coverage of HIV services in Nepal. Women, however, continue to face harassment and discrimination and denied their right to treatment and support along with their sexual and reproductive health. The challenges faced by poor, marginalized women are substantial and we must continue to champion this agenda.
4. Transform into a learning organisation
We have a compelling vision – one that seeks to engage and inspire all of us. Achieving it requires us to transform FAITH into a learning organisation, one that is open and keen to learn from the community it serves, the staff, the board, and broader stakeholders. We have learned a lot through this journey but we haven’t always been good about documenting or translating the lessons into our organizational policies. As we look forward, we recognise that each of us – our employees to our network – must be equipped to create, acquire and translate lessons to transform our societies. We are committed to review ourselves from the ground up, while ensuring that learning occurs in every process, every unit, and every project. We are compelled to learn and be prepared to take risks to accelerate change