SISTA and WILLOW in Ethiopia

SISTA, or Sisters Informing Sisters about Topics on AIDS, is a peer-led, social skills-building intervention designed to reduce sexual HIV risk behaviors among heterosexual Amharic women ages 18-29. SISTA involves informational sessions led by female peer-facilitators that covered gender pride, HIV education, assertiveness skill training, behavioral self-management, and coping skills. With NASTAD’s support, 245 female students were trained as SISTA facilitators, and SISTA was implemented at universities, high schools, and woredas (counties) in four regions throughout Ethiopia.

WILLOW, or Women Involved in Life Learning from Other Women, is a health education and skills building intervention that targets women living with HIV. The sessions are designed to:

  • Empower women and improve their self-perception and their relationships within their social networks
  • Increase knowledge of HIV, STDs, Hepatitis, tuberculosis, condom use, risk behaviors and safe sex practices
  • Build skills and strategies for coping with stress and health related challenges

Testaments from a WILLOW Facilitator

Shemshi Shifa, 45, is a trained WILLOW facilitator under Shama Birhan People Living with HIV Association. When asked to speak about her experience with WILLOW, she explained: “I am HIV positive and I knew my status for five years. No one knew about my status, until I started participating in WILLOW training. I have been on ART for the last three years. My son is a third year University student and he doesn’t know anything about my status. I used to hide my medications and there are times I forgot to take them. I wasn’t feeling well and usually depressed. However, the lesson I got from WILLOW prompted me to speak out my status.”

“In the middle of this year my son came for 15 days’ vacation and I have decided to tell him all about my health. One day after we had eaten our lunch I said to him today there is something I should tell you. I have hidden you my status for a long time, but now I decided to tell you that I am HIV positive. After long silence he had to say ’My mother you have suffered a lot alone. You should have told me before; this is not a sin and it is not an end of the world, if you care for yourself you can live longer and enjoy life. Anyways I am about to complete my education and you will not be in trouble any more, I will be with you’.”

“Then I stopped chewing khat and smoking shisha; and my CD4 and weight increased significantly. Now I am feeling very well and happy, that is why I feel I am born again after participating in WILLOW.”