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‘Stepping Stones’ - brightening up lives in Tanzania

In Tanzania the Catholic NGO, PASADA, has brought Stepping Stones into the lives of hundreds of communities and thousands of families.

Crucial to this work are the local volunteers trained by PASADA* as Stepping Stones facilitators.

The Stepping Stones facilitators come from many walks of life: they include small traders and entrepreneurs, teachers, community health educators, farmers, housewives, retired people and lay religious leaders.  Whenever they meet, they refer to one another by nicknames which they themselves have chosen.  (‘Maua’, for example, means ‘flower’ in Swahili.  ‘Rekebisha’ means ‘to amend’.)  This is part of the Stepping Stones approach: it helps to break down social barriers and allows everyone to interact on the same level. 

Meetings always start with a prayer and a song – and sometimes dancing.

In the past 10 years PASADA has trained 226 Stepping Stones facilitators, who organise training workshops where they pass on their attitudes, knowledge and skills to members of their communities, who in turn pass them on to others through other workshops and meetings.  PASADA estimates that at least 56,000 people have come into contact with Stepping Stones in this way.  Many more have done so through informal, person-to-person contacts.

Although PASADA is a Catholic organisation, about a third of the Stepping Stones facilitators it has trained are Muslims; the others are Catholics and members of Protestant churches.  Meetings always start with a prayer and a song - the facilitators have composed numerous special Stepping Stones songs. 

PASADA provides a wide range of social and medical support services for people living with HIV and their families in three districts of the city and five districts of Coast region.

Each month, approximately 5,000 HIV tests are carried out at PASADA’s 19 clinics. A total of 20,410 people now receive anti-retroviral therapy from PASADA’s clinics. All PASADA’s services are provided, free of charge, to everyone, with no discrimination of any kind. 

In 1998, PASADA partnered ActionAid in the production of Kivuko, the Swahili edition of the Stepping Stones training manual.  PASADA is also responsible for the distribution of the Kivuko manual in Tanzania.

(*Pastoral Activities and Services for People with AIDS.)

Here we meet five Stepping Stones facilitators:

Rekebisha was trained as a Stepping Stones facilitator in 2002. As a young man, Rekebisha focuses on running Stepping Stones workshops with other young people.  He was 20 when he first attended a Stepping Stones workshop run by his church.  He is now a secondary school student.

“I was drinking alcohol excessively, and I had several sexual partners.  That was my life.  But as I went through the Stepping Stones training sessions I began re-evaluating my life.  Slowly, I began making changes, like going back to school.  I learned more about myself and how to communicate better with other people.  Members of my community now look up to me as a young man who has a good relationship with his family.  I’m seen as a role model.

“The most important thing about Stepping Stones for me is that it changed my personal life.  It worked for me.  I got to know myself better.  I’m now very active in my community.  People come to me for support and advice.  And because I’m a young person, I bring a lot of energy into the Stepping Stones training sessions through dancing and drama.”

Molah is a community health educator.  Trained as a Stepping Stones facilitator in 2000, he now runs Stepping Stones workshops in his local church parish and also in Muslim communities.

Stepping Stones training gave me the competence, and the confidence, which I needed.  I regularly visit those in need of information on how to deal with HIV and AIDS, as well as other personal matters like finance and health.  Stepping Stones training gave me the confidence I needed to go from door-to-door, educating the members of my parish church.  I’m now well-known in my community.  People turn to me for advice.

“I’m sensitive to the different customs and cultures in our communities.  When I go to run Stepping Stones workshops in mosques I wear different clothes from the usual.  There’s a gap between Christian and Muslim communities and I want to bridge that.  It’s important to remember that Stepping Stones is not about preaching.  It’s about communicating with people.”

Mama Maua
Mama Maua is one of several Stepping Stones facilitators who are HIV-positive.  Her husband died six years ago, leaving her with four children. 
Many women in Maua’s community are widows and quite a few are HIV-positive.  Being HIV-positive herself, Maua can easily empathise with them.

“I was totally confused when I found that I was HIV-positive, shortly after my beloved husband died.  I gave away my clothes because I thought I was going to die any day.  I had no hope for myself.”

PASADA introduced Maua to Stepping Stones through her Muslim community in 2007. 

Stepping Stones taught me that I could look after my health and be strong for my children.  I now know what food I should eat and how to avoid infections.”

PASADA also provides Maua with anti-retroviral medicine.  “Since being on the treatment, my weight has increased from 35 kg to 76 kg and my CD4 count has gone up from 184 to 897.  My confidence has also increased. 

“When my husband died, his relatives chased me out of our home and I didn’t know how to speak out against them, but Stepping Stones gave me courage.  I’m brave enough now to stand up and train others in Stepping Stones.  And I took my late husband’s family to court and got my house back.

Stepping Stones taught me how I could look after my health and be strong for my children.  Through Stepping Stones, I’m able to demonstrate to widows the rights which they have.”

Mama Faras has been a Stepping Stones facilitator since 2006. As well as running Stepping Stones workshops in and outside her church community, Faras also teaches it to her husband and their five children. 

“The most important thing I’ve learned from Stepping Stones is how to communicate effectively with my husband and children.  Misunderstandings in our family were almost always caused by communication problems. Stepping Stones taught me to take great care about how to talk to my family.  I don’t use harsh language anymore, and neither do they.

Stepping Stones taught me not to judge people, and also not to form opinions about people too quickly.  One of our daughters fell pregnant when she was 16 and still at school.  So I looked after the baby, my grand-daughter, so my daughter could finish school.

“My relationship with my husband has changed completely.  He no longer tries to dominate.  He even helps with the housework, which traditionally is a woman’s job.  He fetches the water in the morning and he cleans the compound with me.  We’re like twins now.  We do everything together and we’re united in whatever we do.

“I also teach Stepping Stones within our community.  I made it part of my everyday life.  But I don’t just teach Stepping Stones.  It’s part of my whole life.” 

Mama Paupau
Mama Paupau has been running Stepping Stones workshops since 2006.  She says:

Stepping Stones brightens up people’s lives.  It’s my today, and it’s my tomorrow.  It helps people to know themselves, to know how others feel and what they need, and to understand their own responsibility to their community.

“I like using Stepping Stones because it brings about change.  Every day in life there are challenges, but I believe that, with Stepping Stones knowledge, you can do anything.  I’ll continue using it because there is always a need to understand more about the people around you, and to help them in their everyday lives.

Stepping Stones is really important because it helps us to reflect on what cultural traditions and practices are appropriate and which ones should be modified or changed.  For example, polygamy.  I’ve given education to men who want to have multiple wives, and some have changed.  They’ve stopped wanting this and have decided to be settled with one woman.

“But it’s hard to reach young girls involved in prostitution.  Some are under 15 years-old, and more needs to be done to help them.  The problem is that you can’t reach them.  They don’t want to be approached.  They are sent out to work by others, and they need to bring money back to the brothel.”

Claire Williams and Olivier Paccalin