Local partner profile: Rock of Hope serves a key group in the fight against HIV and AIDS

February 3, 2020

Rock of Hope was established in 2011 with the mission of providing essential health services for one of Eswatini’s most vulnerable key populations in the fight against HIV and AIDS – men who have sex with men, known in the public health field as MSM. The organization grew, serving MSM across the country.

But a few years after it began, Rock of Hope hit a significant roadblock. Its executive director suddenly died. He was the cornerstone of the organization. After his death, donors lost faith in Rock of Hope. The institutional knowledge behind the organization’s operations and programming disappeared, as did its funding.

When Pact and the LINKAGES project began supporting Rock of Hope in 2017, it had been without funding for two years.

Key populations – sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs – are disproportionately affected by HIV. At the same time, the stigma, discrimination and threat of criminal prosecution faced by key populations around the world pose serious barriers to their ability to access quality, rights-based health care. The LINKAGES project (Linkages Across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV), supported by PEPFAR and USAID, is accelerating the ability of partner governments, key population-led civil-society organizations and private-sector providers to plan and deliver comprehensive HIV prevention, care and treatment services at scale to reduce HIV transmission among key populations and to extend life for those who are HIV-positive. LINKAGES is active in 29 countries and has worked in 35 countries globally.

In Eswatini, Pact is an implementing partner in LINKAGES, helping to strengthen the capacity of local organizations like Rock of Hope.

“We had some internal control systems, but by the time the LINKAGES project came, no one knew of them or where to find them,” Rock of Hope’s current executive director, Sanele Sibiya, explained. “Fortunately, Pact had opportune timing and was able to step in and provide us with the support we needed. They were able to help give our other donors the confidence to continue funding us.”

Rock of Hope had struggled with compliance issues and paying suppliers on time. With Pact’s support, the organization overcame those issues. Pact trained Rock of Hope’s board of directors in their fiduciary responsibilities as a body that provides financial and organizational oversight.

“Now the board is much more active in the financial management and resource mobilization of the organization,” Sanele says.

Pact’s Institutional Strengthening Plan exercise helped Rock of Hope develop a strategic plan during the first year of LINKAGES, directly leading to the award of a three-year grant from the European Union.

“They were impressed with the strategic plan. I think that set us apart from other organizations,” says Christopher Klass, Rock of Hope’s measurement and evaluation officer. 

Programmatically, Rock of Hope has historically concentrated on community sensitization and advocacy. Through LINKAGES, it has strengthened this aspect of its work and grown in the area of service-provision programming. Rock of Hope has used its position to advocate with media, lawyers, government officials, police, nurses and the wider community, now with strengthened outreach modalities. Through the innovative use of drama plays and social media, Rock of Hope spreads the message of equality.

In service provision, the organization has reached its LINKAGES targets for 95% of its beneficiaries knowing their HIV status, and those who are HIV-positive have been linked to treatment.

Before LINKAGES, Rock of Hope’s programming included providing water-based lubrication to MSM, enhancing psychosocial support mechanisms for the LGBTQ community and training paralegals to ensure the protection of LGBTQ human rights. With Pact’s support, Rock of Hope is implementing holistic programming for Swazi MSM.

Today, Rock of Hope is far more than just one person. It is a flourishing organization with steady funding, documented processes and set roles and responsibilities for all staff – assets that will serve the organization well as it continues to expand its reach and impact.