Fellow Since 1996
Community Life Project
This profile was prepared when Ngozi Iwere was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.
The New Idea
Ngozi Iwere is challenging the idea that the HIV/AIDS virus can be contained by educating only special high-risk groups in society. While this idea is mainstream in many settings, it represents a radical departure in Nigeria and carries many implications. Working under the assumption that every member of the community is at risk, she has developed a project designed to involve the entire community in HIV/AIDS education and prevention. Her Community Life Project works within existing neighborhood and community networks such as hair salon unions, marketplace and small business unions, mechanics unions and schools to develop and aggressively disseminate prevention and treatment information.This community-in-charge approach is diametrically opposed to the expert-driven, from-on-high character of public health information in Nigeria. Ngozi believes that, because discussion of HIV/AIDS touches on sensitive issues such as drug use and sexuality, the usual impersonal expert-led approach is particularly inappropriate. In Ngozi's program, community members have control over what information is shared, how it is shared and who is responsible for making it available. The Project's community seminars, for example, tend to be familiar and frank.Ngozi recounts how one Project member, a security guard, came forward at one seminar and stated, "Let's be realistic, if my wife delivers and I am asked to wait six weeks to have sex, I won't wait. How many of you men would? I don't say it is right to go to a prostitute. But if you can't help yourself, all I say is: Go, but take your condoms with you." Every male head in the room nodded.Ngozi's intention is to put HIV/AIDS prevention and control on the community agenda throughout Nigeria at the same level of commitment, resource allocation, awareness and planning as well-established issues such as schooling, sanitation and traffic safety. Ngozi hopes that, as the topic of HIV/AIDS prevention becomes more commonplace, more community members will be motivated to change their behavior and take responsibility for their own health.