Author: M. G.
Fanta Ongoiba is a Muslim woman born in Mali, who now lives in Toronto. Being the executive director of Africans in Partnership Against Aids, an organization founded almost 20 years ago to give a translation service in the hospitals of the Canadian city, Ongoioba was celebrated last Sunday with the 'Women Who Inspire' Award. She educates Muslim people about HIV/AIDS matters and promotes condom use in her community. The organization also trains people living with HIV/AIDS to share their experiences with the aim of reducing the stigma in the community.
This kind of messages can often meet much resistance in Muslim communities, especially in Ongoiba's mother country, where talking about sex is taboo and spreading awareness is not easy at all. She was called a 'troublemaker' by a sheik during an international conference but she embraced this label without any problem: "I said, ‘Yes, I'd prefer to be a troublemaker to wake you up,'[...]It doesn't mean, that if you pray five times a day you cannot catch HIV" Amen to that! I think that most of her amazing strength comes from the awareness she has about what's going on in her community: "People in general in Muslim communities have been raised and educated like this: "You don't need to have sex until marriage." But today's generation is not like previous generations. It's something that's biological - people need to explore. Most of the time the myth is that in a Muslim community there is no HIV/AIDS."
What is completely out of the ordinary -and makes you also understand how open-minded Muslim people can be- is that this woman was able to collaborate with the imams of the mosques in Toronto. "Here in Toronto, I approach the imams at the mosques where I go all the time to pray. I get close to the imam and then explain the work I do in the community. [...] I explained to them, religion doesn't have anything to do with culture. Let us separate the God side and let us focus on the cultural side."
The amazing Miss Ongoiba found the right way to do prevention in communities where sex is still a big taboo. Being a ‘troublemaker' means starting a debate about what's a correct behaviour for a religion or a culture and what's generally healthy behaviour. They are two completely different things but are often the origin of a dangerous misunderstanding. You can call DAA ‘troublemakers' too- and we will be more than happy to accept this title!