Our journey began in 1992, in the southwestern Ugandan town of Lyantonde.
There, Dr. Dennis Willms (McMaster University) and Prof. Nelson Sewankambo (Makerere University) were serving as co-principal investigators in a behavioural science research study on HIV/AIDS transmission. Together with their team of ethnographic researchers, they were able to shed light on who was at heightened risk of contracting HIV in Sub-Saharan African communities, confirming that HIV transmission was far more prolific than first believed.
They also saw first-hand how the crisis was significantly impacting the lives of generations of Africans; those with HIV/AIDS were “dying and getting finished”, leaving behind orphans, widows, and aging grandparents to face the awful struggle of poverty. At the time, there were no anti-retroviral therapies (ARTs), which made the need for HIV/AIDS prevention and support services for vulnerable communities critical.
The team believed there was great promise in participatory action research (PAR) where research findings are translated into tangible solutions and used by the impacted communities. Unfortunately, despite successfully publishing academically robust data, the team could not rely on traditional academic grants to finance PAR activities. To generate the funding needed, Dr. Willms established Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF). In 1994, the foundation was incorporated as a charitable organization and registered with the Canadian Revenue Agency.
Thanks to generous donations and the work of countless people, SSF has since been able to ethically and meaningfully come alongside communities in addressing their health and development needs. SSF aims to “do development differently” by depending on – and deferring to – the collective strength of indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and spiritual values.
By working alongside esteemed community members – including mentors (aunts and uncles), traditional healers, faith leaders, and budding entrepreneurs – SSF programs are helping people reclaim their hope, worthwhileness, and well-being. These programs include socially compelling and sensitive approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention, small business development (including micro-loans), gender-based violence (GBV) intervention, and addressing food insecurity, poverty, education, and water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH) issues.
SSF continues to advance its unique form of authentic development in Uganda, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, and is currently replicating its best practices and processes into Ontario-based, Canadian ethnocultural community settings. Our commitment to sustainable development has resulted in the indigenization of SSF-Uganda, now independently registered in Uganda as an Indigenous Non-Government Organization (NGO).