Women's Equity in Access to Care and Treatment (WE-ACTx) is an organization dedicated to increasing women’s and children’s access to HIV testing, care, treatment, support, education and training in resource-limited settings at the grassroots level.
During Rwanda's 1994 genocide, an estimated 250,000 Rwandan women experienced multiple episodes of brutal rape, torture and violence. Many of women contracted HIV, likely as a result of the this brutality. In late 2003, the women learned that the perpetrators of their rapes who were jailed while waiting trial at the International Tribunal were receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART), while their victims died of AIDS. WE-ACTx was created in early 2004 in response to a request from these women for help in accessing ART.
Working collaboratively with five local genocide survivors associations, the Rwandan Ministry of Health and the Rwandan National AIDS Program, WE-ACTx founding members mobilized resources and we acted to develop a treatment program for the survivors. The first patients received comprehensive primary care by June of 2004.
Since then, our programs have expanded in both size and scope, but our deep commitment to helping Rwandan survivors of genocidal rape and sexual violence, and empowering HIV-infected and affected women and children to take charge of their lives and become leaders in the fight against AIDS, guides our vision and continuing efforts.
In the summer of 2004, Dr. Kathryn Anastos, one of WE-ACTx's co-founders, travelled to Rwanda for the second time to countinue the process of founding a new organization. On this trip, Dr. Anastos brought her then 17 year old daughter, Rebecca Anastos-Wallen, with her.
Over the course of the trip, Rebecca travelled with Dr. Anastos as she went to multiple meetings with the grassroots, local genocide survivors' associations who would be WE-ACTx's first partner organizations. At each meeting Dr. Anastos spoke to hundreds of HIV+ Rwandan women, many of whom had been infected through genocidal rape. The women articulated 3 clear needs: they needed access to highly active antiretroviral therapy, they needed WE-ACTx to test their children for HIV, and they needed help sending their children to school. Education, they told us, was the only way they and their families were going to break the cycle of poverty.
Although WE-ACTx got to work immediately on the first two requests, providing voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) to thousands and facilitating treatment for patients within months, the women's third request, access to education for their children, remained "off-mission" for WE-ACTx. Nevertheless, the women's explanation that education was the key to escaping poverty stuck in Rebecca's head. Talking to the many friends and family back in the United States who wanted to find a way to help, Rebecca realized that an opportunity for partnership existed.
In the summer of 2006, Rebecca returned to Rwanda to develop WE-ACTx for Education as an independently sustaining sub-program of WE-ACTx. Working together with Solidarity, a grassroots Rwandan women's organization already partnered with WE-ACTx for HIV treatment services, we began the process of identifying the community of children most is need of school fees (secondary students only), books, uniforms, etc. and put in place the accouting and process infrastructure required to help these students in an accountable way. At the same time, we began to realize that many of the students we were hoping to support were so hungry that even if we could send them to school, they would have trouble focusing. To alleviate this problem worked with Solidarity to set up a system via which Solidarity could provide breakfast to all children in the community 365 days per year.
Back in the United States, the First Plymouth Congregational Church of Dever, Colorado committed to helping support the students of Solidarity and together we kicked-off the first of what would become an annual fundraising campaign.
Today, WE-ACTx for Education has extended beyond the scope of our original partnership with Solidarity to include more children from their community and extend support to a second community in the Nyamasheke district of Rwanda. We now have over 500 students in the program and more than 100 students have graduated from secondary school since 2006.