The Ghana-West Africa Program to Combat AIDS and STIs (WAPCAS) hosted Sheryl Lee Ralph, an American actress and winner of Emmy, Critics Choice, and Golden Globes awards on 25th March 2023 at the forecourt of WAPCAS Headquarters in Accra to engage with the staff and volunteers (comprising of Peer educators, Paralegals and Drop-in Center Attendants) of WAPCAS. Present at this community engagement included the former country Director of UNAIDS, Angela Trenton-Mbonde, representatives from the Young Health Advocates of Ghana (YHAG) and the Executive Director of WAPCAS, Mrs. Comfort Adu-Asamoah. The objective of this community engagement was to enable Sheryl to share her experiences in the prevention of HIV/AIDS, STIs and Stigma & Discrimination through her organisation, DIVA foundation.
In her address to welcome participants to this engagement, the Executive Director (ED) of WAPCAS, Mrs. Comfort Adu-Asamoah thanked staff, guests, and volunteers for honouring the invitation to be part of the engagement. In elaborating the purpose for the gathering, the ED explained that the guest for the program, Sheryl Lee Ralph, is an American actress who has the development of women and young girls at heart. The ED added, it was the first time the actress was in Ghana and through the former country Director to Ghana, Angela Trenton-Mbonde, she wanted to have an engagement with the volunteers to encourage them to do whatever they can to achieve their goals in life. She urged all the volunteers present to be involved actively in the engagement as a lot of knowledge could be gained from it.
After the welcome address from the ED of WAPCAS, the Project Coordinator and MC for the program, Daniel Opoku Quarm, led a discussion of Prevention of Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (PSEAH). He created different scenarios for participants to identify which of them can be grouped under Sexual Exploitation, Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment. All participants contributed to these scenarios. The PSEAH session ended with the Project Coordinator encouraging participants to take the policy seriously as it is also considered weightier by the Global Fund as donors for WAPCAS in the prevention of HIV/AIDS among Key Population.
In a speech to contribute to the program, the former country Director of USAID to Ghana, Angela Trenton-Mbonde, expressed her profound gratitude to the ED of WAPCAS the hardwork she has placed in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and STIs in Ghana. She was excited to see the young ladies contributing to the PSEAH discussion and urged the young men present to help prevent Sexual Abuse in all forms in all fields. She encouraged the men to help prevent sexual abuse, exploitation, and harassment by shaming and reporting their fellow men who are into such obnoxious act. She said there should be a zero tolerance when it comes to SEAH. She was also quick to add that, though it is the target of UNDP to end ADIS by 2030, when it comes to SEAH, it is her hope that it ends before 2030. She also called on the staff of WAPCAS to support the good work being done by the ED. She concluded her speech expressing her excitement to be present at this community engagement.
In her speech, Sheryl Lee Ralph explained that the idea of establishing her organisation, DIVA, was to serve as a living memorial to the many friends and colleagues she lost to HIV/AIDS during the AIDS crisis while she was an original company member of Dreamgirls on Broadway. She added that, it was the only way of raising awareness about the infection/disease and to erase stigma and discrimination surrounding this morbidity especially among people of colour. She added that, she has encountered many challenges since establishing this organisation 33 years ago but with the help of God and friends who share similar goals with her, she has been able to sustain this organisation.
In responding to a question from a participant whether the issue of Stigma and Discrimination exists in the US and what she does to tackle such behavior, the actress affirmed that Stigma also exists in the US especially if you are from the community of people of colour. But the only way to prevent Stigma in the community was to voice and speak out. She said until people speak and voice out, the issue of stigma will continue to linger in the community and that will hamper the prevention of HIV/AIDS. She encouraged the young ladies to be of themselves because the only person who could help them achieve something meaningful in life was themselves.
After her speech, the ED led the invited guests to the exhibition table where the Peer Educators and Paralegals explained all the materials gathered to the amazement and excitement of the invited guests. Some of the guests requested for some of the reading materials and the beads displayed on the table. Sheryl was impressed of what she saw on the exhibition table and encouraged the ladies to do whatever it takes to achieve their goal in life.
In giving her closing remarks, the former country Director of USAID to Ghana expressed her gratitude for the ED of WAPCAS for organising the program. She also praised her for taking active role in the prevention of HIV/AIDS but again called on all WAPCAS staff to support her in this work. she encouraged the young ladies gathered to be of themselves and whilst also pleading the young men to support these young ladies to achieve their dreams. She concluded her remarks by thanking Sheryl Lee Ralph for accepting to be present to speak to these young ladies being her first time in Ghana.