Meshack Lettuefaha has a difficult job ahead of him. As one of the few male Lesotho Red Cross care facilitators, it is his job to reach out to men in his community and to educate and support them on issues surrounding HIV.
After being trained by the Red Cross, Meshack, 69, has seen first-hand how men struggle to take on board messages around sexual health.
He says: “At first men didn’t know and didn’t understand. They would say, having sex with a condom is not what we are used to.”
The Red Cross is trying to encourage more men to take on the role of care facilitators in their villages. But at a meeting in Mapholaneng, the men in the room are the exception – a few can be seen within the crowd of women’s faces but they are dramatically outnumbered.
By educating his friends and neighbours on safe sex, Meshack is able to dispel some of the myths that surround HIV and AIDS. But for many, the reluctance to speak openly about the issues is also rooted in the conventional structure of male-headed households.
“Families are still very traditional,” Meshack explains. “For some it appears that if a woman asks to use a condom she has taken control and men are supposed to be the heads of the family.
“More people need to speak out at a community level, at ‘phisos’ which are public gatherings, called by the village chief. However, where men are concerned, even this is becoming difficult.
“Many men in communities are reluctant to come to public gatherings, as they think they already know what they are going to hear. So now we also go house-to-house.”
Helping people overcome prejudice and stigma is a large part of Meshack’s role. It is also something he has experienced personally.
“What we do as care facilitators is very hard work. At first people were thinking we did the job because we were HIV positive, Meshack says. “Before I started as a care facilitator I told my family I was going to get tested. They said they would leave me if I was positive. I was negative but told them I was positive and said to them – will you leave me now? But they didn’t.
“For most of those living with HIV in my community, the reaction from friends and family has been supportive. When I started it was difficult to work with men. Women were much easier to work with. But over time it is changing and it is getting easier.”