Art takes up the battle against HIV

Marloes Humbeeck
13 May 2019
HIV remains a widespread problem in Tanzania, partly due to the persistent taboo on the disease. With her NGO 'Get Up Tanzania' (GUTz), Suzanne ter Haar wants to change this. She tells us her story.
Suzanne ter Haar

 

Who?

Suzanne ter Haar, founder of GUTz (Get up Tanzania).

 

What?

A NGO that uses the performing arts to launch an awareness campaign on HIV. The organisation also gives Tanzanians the opportunity to get checked during every project. 

 

Why?

Because there is still a taboo surrounding HIV, many Tanzanians are not informed or do not get themselves checked. If we want to fight the disease efficiently, we must break this taboo.

It is estimated that there are currently about 1.4 million HIV-positive people in Tanzania. However, we do not know the exact number because many people are afraid of getting tested. After all, there is still a big taboo surrounding the disease. Those who are infected are often regarded with suspicion or even banned from society.

There is a great fear and as they do not get tested, people are often not aware of their condition. They then pass on the disease unintentionally, resulting in more and more victims. With the NGO 'Get Up Tanzania', I want to motivate young Tanzanians to get tested in order to fight HIV.

Many people are afraid of getting tested. After all, there is still a big taboo surrounding HIV.

Love at first sight

It all started more than ten years ago, when I left with my family for Tanzania to spend the holidays there. During the war in Rwanda, my father had installed water pipes in the Tanzanian refugee camps. For his fiftieth birthday, the six of us decided to go to the country he loves so much. I, in turn, fell in love immediately and decided that one day I would return.

After completing my theatre studies in Brussels, I volunteered for the organisation ‘Art in Tanzania’ and I effectively left. After six months, I was offered a contract and decided to stay in Tanzania for a while. I ended up staying there for three years. Nowadays I live in Brussels again. Yet Tanzania will always feel like a second home to me. 

 

Combining creatively

During my time in Tanzania, I got to know two interesting organisations working on HIV control. The concept of GUTz actually stems from a combination of both these organisations. On the one hand, there was 'Makini', an NGO that aims at reintegrating street children into society by giving teenagers the opportunity to use their artistic skills to inform their peers about various themes. HIV was one of the issues raised.

On the other hand, I was very inspired by the work of the local HIV prevention organisation 'Pasada'. By using mobile testing units, they want  to give all Tanzanians the opportunity to get tested, even in regions without permanent hospitals. The problem, however, was that often hardly anyone showed up. The threshold turned out to be too high.

The NGO is based on the concept of 'edutainment', a combination of education and entertainment. We organise music and theatre festivals to motivate young Tanzanians to participate in the fight against HIV.

GUTz combines the best of both organisations. The NGO is based on the concept of 'edutainment', a combination of education and entertainment. We organise music and theatre festivals to motivate young Tanzanians to participate in the fight against HIV. In this way we give young artists the opportunity to share their talents. At the same time, we inform people about HIV prevention, transmission and the importance of testing.

Festivals are an accessible place where people can talk about HIV without shame. We also put an end to the frightening connotation of 'testing'. At the end of the festival, visitors have the opportunity to get themselves checked in one of our test centres.

During our first project, it immediately became clear that this creative combination worked. 149 people were tested that day, whereas 'Pasada' had only 12 registrations at the same location a few months earlier.

Two women and one man dance under the accompaniment of percussion in Tanzania.
© GUTz

Local population

I did not want to set up an organisation that makes people from the West go to Tanzania to solve all the problems there. On the contrary, the Tanzanians take their own initiatives to bring about change in their country.

The task of the employees in Belgium and the Netherlands is to maintain contact with European partners, while local employees set up the projects. They do the research and take care of the practical matters concerning the organisation of events.

Even now that I no longer live in Tanzania, I regularly see events appearing on Facebook. I am very happy and proud to see that the local population takes the initiatives for those events, without my help.

What makes our organisation so beautiful to me is the way we work together. It is all very personal. For example, the director of GUTz in Tanzania has already come to Belgium to get to know our Belgian partners (including Wereld Missie Hulp).

On the other hand, my boyfriend Pieter and I regularly travel to Tanzania. He is also member of the GUTz board and lived in Tanzania with me for a year. When we are there, it feels like we are staying with family.

Thanks to our efforts, more than 10,000 people in Tanzania have already been tested for HIV.

Results are obvious

I am proud of what we have achieved with GUTz so far. Thanks to our efforts, more than 10,000 people in Tanzania have already been tested for HIV. 545 of them are now aware of carrying the virus. They can take the right medication and take measures not to infect others.

In addition, our actions help the government get a better view of HIV prevalence in certain regions. We have, for instance, made a shocking discovery in the Shinyanga region. There is an area with several remote mining villages where no less than 12 percent of the people tested positive for HIV.

The government was not at all aware of the seriousness of the situation. Thanks to GUTz, they now know that intervention is needed in this region. It shows how one festival or performance can set a lot in motion.

 

For more information about GUTz, please consult our website.

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