Institutions, like individuals, also have stories to tell about who it is they are -– of beginnings, the years in between, and a hoped for legacy.
Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF) had its beginning after careful reflection on the impact of our medical anthropological research. It was established as a non-government organization (NGO) out of an epiphany of sorts — we believed that as researchers, we were morally culpable to translate what we were learning into programs of relevance to the needs of persons HIV infected and affected in Sub-Saharan Africa. People were saying to us that they were “dying and getting finished!” There was “hopelessness and despair”, and in the context of this existential agony, we were confronted with the challenge of how, in the face of this suffering, ought we to ethically act in response to the knowledge of their risk reality.
As our programs evolved and were transformed over the in between years, we designed, implemented, and evaluated HIV/AIDS interventions that built on the evidence of behavioral science — primarily ethnographic and anthropological evidence. We revitalized an indigenous social institution that had been discarded at the height of the pandemic (traditional mentors — paternal aunts and uncles or kojjas and ssengas). This involved incorporating behavioural knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention into the existing sexual and reproductive health interventions conducted by traditional mentors (paternal aunts and uncles, or kojjas and ssengas). Young people began to alter their risk behaviours, and responded positively to our culturally-compelling messages of “hope with a plan”. We were engaged in “doing development differently”, as we merged scientific/behavioural evidence with indigenous ways of knowing with the mind.
Our hoped for legacy is that we will successfully indigenize the foundation, where our Ugandan senior management assume greater, if not sole responsibility for program development, implementation, and evaluation. We remain committed to our scientific directives, but also sincere in our social engagement with persons and communities involved in participatory action research (reflection [Symbol] action). While evidence/science-driven in our programming, we acknowledge the foundational relevance of indigenous wisdom (another form of evidence and knowledge) and spiritual values that bind us all together. Mbuntu principles, which acknowledge our being and belonging in community (local, national, and global), also guides our steps towards authentic development. Future programs will continue to build on mbuntu assumptive truths, as we commit to indigenize Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF) in a manner that is worthy of Africa’s inherent capacity and resources, along with that of committed partners coming alongside from the global north.