That afternoon, five people were sitting in the living room of a house in Kakuluk Mesak, one of the sub-districts in Belu Regency. They were telling stories and sharing experiences about daily events, including how the community accepts their existence as people living with HIV. There seemed to be an atmosphere of togetherness and kinship between them, which was shown by occasional jokes and laughter in the meeting. They are some of the members of the Kakuluk Mesak peer support group, also known as “Kelompok Dukungan Sebaya”, (KDS) which was formed in June 2020.
Visiting each other is one of the new activities they do for 29 KDS members. This activity is intended to get to know each other, see health conditions and ARV adherence, share experiences, find out the obstacles experienced and find solutions together. They also built a commitment to approach and invite people living with HIV in Kakuluk Mesak sub-district to join the peer support group (KDS).
Home visits to KDS members are one of the routine activities scheduled by Kakuluk Mesak KDS, so that all members get to know each other. Before the formation of the KDS, PLHIV in the border area of Timor Leste did not know each other and were still living their respective lives, there was no group meeting let alone mutual care between them. Only after a PLHIV meeting organized by UPKM / CD Bethesda Yakkum Belu area on June 19, 2020, eight PLHIV who participated in the meeting agreed to form a KDS. They coordinated with Puskesmas Atapupu and Puskesmas Ainiba to be able to invite other PLHIV to join and carry out productive activities jointly designed between KDS and Puskesmas. Now there are at least 29 people who have been active in KDS activities spread across five villages in Kakuluk Mesak District.
Since the formation of KDS until now, activities carried out include KDS meetings, compiling vision and mission, forming KDS management structures and designing activity programs. Kakuluk Mesak KDS also attended KDS meetings at the Belu Regency level to build self-confidence and counseling services facilitated by resource persons from RSUDMgr Gabriel Manek Atambua, Puskesmas, Psychologists from the Psychology study program of Nusa Cedana University and KDS Yogyakarta. In addition, Kakuluk Mesak KDS members participated in various activities carried out by UPKM / CD
Bethesda Yakkum such as HIV and AIDS education for HIV Positive housewives and entrepreneurs, coaching and mentoring related to ARV adherence, anti-stigma and discrimination, self- acceptance training, increasing KDS capacity in policy advocacy, building organizations and networks and increasing KDS skills through the use of yards for organic farming, disinfectant training, hand sanitizer and soap, traditional medicine training, acupressure training and local food processing training.
The participation of Kakuluk Mesak KDS members in various activities at the village, sub-district and district levels has made them more confident because they have sufficient knowledge and skills related to their status as people living with HIV and in the health sector in general. They are now able to accept themselves as PLHIV, brave and ready to open up. They are also able to invite other PLHIV to join the KDS. The HIV and AIDS Program Manager at the Puskesmas often invites Kakuluk Mesak KDS to visit new PLHIV in the Puskesmas area. Kakuluk Mesak KDS continues to advocate to the government and socialize the elimination of stigma and discrimination against PLHIV to the community in the village.
The hope of Kakuluk Mesak KDS members by making these visits can make KDS members get out of their own downturn
and stigma so that they are able to be creative, independent and empowered.* (Almada Lasi)