Special guest blog by Kakha Kepuladze
Earlier this year, together with a colleague from Ukraine, I carried out an outreach training for LGBT. Eleven years ago, when I was just starting my work in the Georgian non-governmental organisation (NGO) Tanadgoma, I had to closely deal with the LGBT community. These people were marginalised and ’rejected’ under the Soviet ideology, which had a heavy pressure on views and human relations. However, the organisation and the people I have worked with helped me to understand that human beings are not to be segregated into ’right ones’ and ’wrong ones’. We are part of one society and all the fears are due to the absence of information, crippled understanding, and myths, which we take for granted without giving them a second thought. In Georgia, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) prevention activities among vulnerable groups, including men who have sex with men (MSM), are conducted by Tanadgoma, the only organisation in this field here.
As it is very difficult to describe sexual behaviour without knowing the essence of sexuality and gender identity, Tanadgoma also closely works with LGBT organisations and representatives of the community whom we provide with technical support. In order to effectively implement HIV prevention programmes, we are trying to put into practice all the available working methods for vulnerable groups. The groups we work with are hard to reach and yet are most vulnerable to infection. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), the LGBT community has been highly stigmatised, unusually marginalised, and transformed into a mythological evil, which is considered to be the source of all troubles. A very low number of coming outs, unacceptable ’visibility’ of LGBT representatives, individual cases of discrimination by relatives, and high prevalence of HIV/STI within the group point out their attempt to hide, go underground, disappear and, thus, worsen the situation even more.
Our work with them includes infection prevention activities, fighting stigma and self-discrimination, and provision of psychological and medical support. To reach this group is a hard task. However, there are various techniques and methods to make contact with the target groups – one of the best is outreach work.
Simeiz: a town known for its tolerance
I was invited to the Crimean town of Simeiz, in Ukraine, to carry out an outreach training for LGBT, both MSM and women who have sex with women (WSW). Simeiz is a small town known for its fancy mountains with funny names, such as ‘Pussy’. People are attracted by a mixed climate, historical monuments, gorgeous villas, small pebble narrow beaches, to name a few: ’Under the swan’s wing’ and ’Sanatorium’, which is known from the fifties as a nudists beach.
Diverse public is gathered here during the season; everyone will find what he or she needs for a good time and a proper rest. From the Soviet times, the town of Simeiz has been known for its tolerance, thus, this is one of the favourite places for people with different sexual orientation and gender identity. At any time of the day and night you would meet strolling or secluded romantic couples, a cheerful group of suntanned boys, smiling ladies openly showing their likings towards each other. You can also sit in cozy clubs and bars, and watch a transvestite show. I think it was a great idea to choose Simeiz for the training of the ’Bridging the Gaps programme.
The aim of the outreach training among LGBT (MSM, WSW), organised by COC Netherlands in cooperation with our national partner in Ukraine, “LiGA Mykolaiv”, was to increase the knowledge of (beginning) social and outreach workers who work or want to work with the target group of MSM and WSW or wish to practically consolidate gained knowledge. Representatives of organisations from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan participated in the training. Myself and my colleague from Ukraine, Oleg Alyokhin, were the trainers of the seminar.
This event, most probably, should not be called a training, but rather a workshop during which people representing various countries, cultures, approaches, and working methods, were ready to share experiences with the beneficiaries, to accept and analyse other opinions, and were eager to find something new, and think about the practical implementation of the adapted form of gained knowledge.
The training programme allowed the participants to sort out the processes that take place in the LGBT community representatives’ lives and within behavioural groups (MSM, WSW), to acquire social work skills within this group, and to get acquainted with the peculiarities of the outreach method.
The following topics were broached upon during the training:
- Outreach work planning – This includes programmatic and administrative parts, information analysis, choosing a location, and preparation of the cohort.
- Behaviour change theory – Human behaviour change is a multiple stage process which is formed under the influence of external and internal factors and is a result of acceptance of these influencing factors by a human being. In order to influence human behaviour it is necessary to know how human behaviour changes and how to help people change their behaviour.
- Peculiarities of LGBT counselling – Counselling is not a routine process, but an environment where a human being finds answers for his questions. It is very important for a counsellor to know about the specificity of the group he or she works with.
- Efficient communications principles – Outreach workers have to master the necessary information and know how to correctly present it to the beneficiaries, how to deliver it in an acceptable way and evoke a sense of confidence in them.
Topics that sparked interest included working with myths and stereotypes and the introduction of a ’peer to peer’ method. The participants were exceptionally enthusiastic about individual visits to outreach routs under the control of mentors, trainers, and representatives of the organisations. It was exciting to see smiling faces next morning, saying ’I managed to make my first contact’ and ‘I was able to tell about HIV and suggested testing’.
Similar trainings help to come to grips with the basic skills and to understand the essence of our work. They also give a momentum to the organisational development, not only in separate countries, but also in the whole region. The most important aims of such trainings are that each organisation understands its significance and feels the possibility of achieving new goals in its work.