Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA), in line with the Performance Contract of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), constituted a team of officers in the AIDS Control Unit (ACU) who were trained as peer counselors in the workplace. The role of the peer counselors is to identify counseling issues at the workplace, conduct individual and or group counseling sessions, advocate and create awareness on various counseling issues and facilitate seminars and workshops in the internal and external domain in observance of the public sector policies.
It is against this backdrop that KWTA organized a five days training earlier in the year for the peer counselors to increase their knowledge and skills in counseling, increase their understanding of the contemporary workplace counseling issues, team building and empower them to deliver on their mandate.
The training was conducted by four consultants Pamela Kaithuru an accredited Counselor and Psychologists experienced in working on emerging issues in the workplace, Philemon Koskei and addiction counselor and lecturer working with Support for Addiction Prevention and Treatment in Africa (SAPTA) experienced in working with addiction issues, Kasivi Muli an addiction counselor experienced in working with most at risk populations and youth and Ezra Omwenga a physiotherapist and team building expert. Working under the umbrella of Support for Addiction Prevention and Treatment in Africa (SAPTA) which also certified the participants the facilitators delivered the service in observance of the code of ethics of counselors.
The five days training was conducted at the Masada Hotel in Naivasha town from 11th May to 15th May, 2015.
The main objectives of the workshop were to help each trainee clearly understand what counseling is all about and why it is practiced, equip the learner with theoretical knowledge on which conceptualization of clients’ problems should be based, equip the learner with the necessary counseling skills and understanding of the counseling process, build the capacity of the learner on some of the emerging issues at the workplace e.g. HIV and AIDS, Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Stress Management and strategic interventions, facilitate learners handle counseling cases and practice counseling clients, help learners understand their role as peer counselors/educators at the workplace, facilitate the team spirit and forge oneness of purpose, support and teamwork in peers, facilitate learners understand the counseling ethics, help learners identify, reach out, record, document and preserve client work, and create awareness on the relevant workplace policies.
The first day session was all about counselling and why it is practiced. Under the facilitation of Philemon Koskei participants were able to explore the definition of counseling, how to relate and respond to other people so that they are helped to explore their thoughts, feelings and behavior and enable them reach to a clearer self-understanding. It was further noted that the counseling relationships will vary according to need but may be concerned with developmental issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crisis, developing personal insights and knowledge, working through feelings of inner conflict or improving relationships with others. Participants further explored the differences between counseling, guidance, advice giving and other related helping professions like psychiatry and a counselor’s duties with other professionals to ensure the optimal function of their clients.
The second session kicked off with learning of the theories of counseling with two major theories being discussed that is the psychoanalytic and the person centered theories facilitated by Koskei. The significant of the theories was to know the foundation of good counseling as they guide on how client’s issues are conceptualized, how interpersonal relationships develop, how professional ethics are implemented and how counselors view self as professional (they are the foundation for treatment)
Though HIV/AIDS dominated the workshop alcohol and substance abuse mainstreaming was also discussed for participants to explore and understand basic facts on alcohol and substance abuse (ADA) and the commonly abused drugs and their affects, understand theoretical perspectives of substance abuse, understand substance abuse progression and explore ADA Management. The session facilitated by Kasivi, defined drugs and substances with participants sharing their experiences and the efforts that all stakeholders are required in order to combat alcohol and drug use in the community and country at large for it risks the gains already made in health management. The theoretical explanations for addiction where discussed and participants were able to relate with the scientific dimensions of addiction as observed with causes of addiction discussed and notable were the environmental influences, the availability of the substances of source, the personality as well as the life challenges that predispose individuals. Prevention was observed to be the best approach to ADA management in the community with the importance of advocacy and awareness campaigns being emphasized.
Further the session explored the hope for the persons already trapped into addiction citing the need for building a network of skilled and knowledgeable peer educators who would form the much needed support especially in the workplace. It was observed that rehabilitation centers also need to be identified for the treatment of addicts in order to restore normalcy and therefore alleviate the pain occasioned by addiction for the individuals, workplace, community and the country at large.
Pamela took all participants through basic facts and understanding of what HIV and AIDS, the modes of transmission and the effects of HIV and AIDS to individuals, organizations and communities including the global, regional, country and county epidemiology. This was aimed at bring all participants at the same page and therefore enhance participation as well as appreciation of the situation as it is. They were also taken through the milestones that the country has made in HIV and AIDS interventions over the years since it was declared a national disaster and the formation of AIDS Control Units efforts to mainstreaming HIV at the workplace as well as the policy implementation.
Participants discussed the importance of embracing behavior change that would therefore engender the achievement of the set strategic goals.
The concepts of behavior change and the stages of behavior change were explored. It was noted that behavior change is a process that helps individuals identify required positive behaviors and develop skills. Communication strategies that would engender growth and enhance capabilities to promote behavior change were discussed. The importance of a supportive environment to enable people initiate and sustain positive behaviors were explored. Some of the aspects discussed in behavior change included condom use, multiple sexual partners, couple counseling, culture practices and stigma and discrimination. Participants explored HCT learning which entails the process of one making a decision to know their HIV status and therefore seeking the service through the authorized institutions. The process which includes pretest counseling, the test itself and the post-test counseling was explored.
The process was discussed with some of the participants sharing their experiences with VCT, their status as well as the fears that people go through. The importance of knowing one’s status was discussed and the issues of stigma and discrimination related to HIV were as well explored. Participants were encouraged to seek the service for it is the entry point to health management of individuals as other services are sought after that. Infected individuals may be able to access early care & preventive therapies such as prevention of mother to child transmission, TB screening and even access peer, social and community support services. HIV negative individuals are helped to make behavior change to avoid infections as well.
Related issues like stigma and discrimination, living with HIV and AIDS, management, support, care and treatment where explored. In addition participants were taken through the concept of mainstreaming and policy position at the workplace. Participants expressed the level of growth they had experienced in terms of knowledge and skills in understanding and dealing with HIV and AIDS issues in the workplace and community they also gained understanding of HIV and AIDS management, care and treatment and expressed their appreciation of the importance of the topic and how prepared they felt to be instruments of change at the workplace.
Participants had the chance to practice counseling in pairs bringing out general counseling issues that clients bring out in counselling sessions, the process of counseling. Skills and techniques were demonstrated and explored such that facilitators keenly explained the happenings in the counseling sessions.
It was a session of identifying the preparedness of the counselors to offer professional support to the clients both internal and external at the workplace. Notable was the need for continuous consultations with practicing counselors in order to ensure growth and therefore professionalism.
Towards the end of the workshop team building and skills of working together in a seamless way as a team and being able to support, complement and build on one another to achieve set targets were explored. This was an outdoor activity undertaken by the team setting out to visit the park and the Hells Gate attraction site and later in the evening boats ride in the Lake Naivasha. The experience at the Park was exciting with participants getting to experience mountain climbing and to see various wild life including giraffe, buffalo, zebra, gazelles, wildebeests, warthogs and birds. It was a time of sharing and learning from the ‘lifestyle’ of the wild on the differences amongst individuals and the importance of living and working together to scale through the challenges of life and bring harmony and coexistence despite diversity.
On the last day the team was taken through the professional aspects of a counselor with discussions geared towards self-awareness. Members learnt the characteristics of a good counselor which include an identity, respect and appreciating themselves, being able to recognize and accept their own power, open to change, making choices that shape their lives. Counselors feel alive and their choices are life-oriented, authentic, sincere and honest, have a sense of humor, make mistakes and are willing to admit and generally live in the present. They appreciate the influence of life, have sincere interest in the welfare of others and become deeply involved in their work and derive meaning from it. They are also able to maintain healthy boundaries.
Participants discussed the counseling ethics such autonomy, respecting the rights of clients, fairness and just treatment, fidelity, genuity and faithfully honoring the commitment. Professional Competence- boundaries of competence, based on education, training, supervision experience, and appropriate professional experience were explored.
At the end the participants made recommendations to the management in order to enhance and encourage prevention, management, treatment and care programs at KWTA. They included conducting, training in counseling, drugs and substance abuse and related issues for professionalism e.g. refresher, certificate, diploma course etc., need for constant supervision by a professional counselor, consultations and networking with relevant partners, undertake exchange programmes with other ACUs, benchmarking, seminars and workshops, need for an equipped resource center i.e. with books, demos, electronic media (DVDs, CDs and TV), customized posters, brochures and charts, digitize ACU activities and link ACU activities and information on the KWTA website and open a ‘wattsapp’ group for staff to share counseling information, quarterly awareness programs both for internal and external domain including management. The ACU needs to reach out to the community during KWTA stakeholder’s activities with information including VCT services, development and customize workplace policy on HIV, ADA, Gender and disability mainstreaming, provision for a ring-fenced ACU budget based on the work plan, develop and publish a workplace magazine bi-annually and undertake team building and open family days and other outdoor activities.
In the light of the above, the KWTA ACU as a way forward participants noted the need to strengthen, build capacity, support and empower the AIDS Control Unit to achieve the targets. The team in one accord committed themselves to creating awareness both at the internal and external domain and work within the professional and ethical practice as expected.