Volunteers Combat HIV/AIDS
a collection of stories
- Personal Essay
- By Various Authors
Jenell Stewart, Peace Corps Volunteer
Ghana, West Africa
When I first moved to my site, I joined a group of 15- to 30-year-old males for volleyball every afternoon. We started playing volleyball for community integration and for something fun to do. One day, I wore a shirt that advertised "Steer your future, use a condom" to the volleyball court. That initiated a conversation about condoms and safe sex. I discovered that there were only few locations where condoms were sold, and that they are 10 times the wholesale price and were often sold in front of large groups of people. It occurred to me that if these young men were going to start using condoms, accessibility, cost, and privacy would need to improve. The next week I organized a training workshop on condom use. My plan was to pass this responsibility to my team and kiosk owners, who will be trained for anonymous condom sales.
Molly McCollom, Peace Corps Volunteer in Health
Mauritania, West Africa
I often talk with PLWHA (People Living With HIV/AIDS) who come into Espoir et Vie (Hope and Life, a nongovernmental organization operating in Mauritania). Often, I simply greet them and make small talk. However, I am trying as much as possible to speak with them about relevant topics. I have spoken with HIV-positive mothers about the nutritional needs of their children. I have also spoken to several men about the dangers of smoking, especially for PLWHA with compromised immune systems.
I have also tried to be as compassionate as possible. When people living with AIDS talk about their problems, I listen. Sometimes I think that this is the most important function of Espoir et Vie: to allow the people with AIDS to express their problems without judging them. I try to make as much physical contact with the women as possible, especially when they are crying, because so many of them receive no physical contact at all; their families and friends have rejected them and are scared to come anywhere near them. Likewise, I play with the children who come in with their mothers, knowing that many of the children receive no physical contact with anyone but their mothers. This also gives the mothers a little break from constantly taking care of their children.
Mary-Anne Camp, Peace Corps Volunteer
Botswana, Southern Africa
What am I doing here about AIDS? Everything and anything I can. I meet with 2-year-olds to 60-year-olds, and what I do, of course, depends on what project I'm working on, but we always try to talk about AIDS. For the primary students, we try to tell them that choices are important for them—their own personal choices. They have the right to say no. They own themselves, and that's a hard concept for that age because they've always been told that they belong to their parents, or a guardian. To belong to themselves is a new concept for them—to be able to take ownership for themselves. And then when you move up into the secondary school, we definitely try to teach about teenage pregnancies. We talk about AIDS, teenage pregnancy, the right to be able to say no. We're also trying to include boys in this program because without boys and men, we can't do this. This program opens discussion. We just talk, and through our talking we have established a social group. We have established a productive community, working together with the youth to achieve our goals.
Fallon Taylor, Peace Corps Volunteer
Botswana, Southern Africa
The reason I decided to join the Peace Corps to work on HIV/AIDS is because I lost my father to AIDS 10 years ago. After working on my bachelor's degree in psychology, I was in search of the perfect career path, a perfect way that I could serve others. I came across a television program about HIV/AIDS in Africa and it just fit into place like a puzzle piece. I've been at my site for eight months and in those eight months, this has become my home. It might not be the place I will live forever, but I have family and friends here. People know me and trust me not to judge them. My community sees me as a human resource, and we have worked together to educate people on HIV/AIDS—from HIV/AIDS prevention to services and programs available, such as community HIV/AIDS counseling and testing centers. Our clinic tested 153 from January to June 2005. Since the commencement of our community outreach activities over the past six months, they have tested 637 people. When I walk through my village and people ask me about the AIDS educational programs, or tell me, "I'm going to come to the clinic later and get tested," I know I have done my job. When people ask, "Would you come and talk to our church about HIV?" I know that we are making a difference.
Brooke Logan, Peace Corps Volunteer in Health Education
Albania, Southern Europe
I was struggling to engage my counterparts in addressing any kind of health-education activity. We finally sat and made a list of priorities, and after more encouragement and pushing from me, we finally started focusing on ideas that they were interested in implementing—including as a top priority an HIV/AIDS class for the local youth.
Since this was the summer, it was hard to involve students, but we made a flyer and got it copied through the local municipality. We posted these around town on the trees in the town center (the usual way of giving public notice) and put flyers in a computer games store.
The class was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but no one showed up until 11. The staff at the health center were upset that no one showed up at first, and began going out into the center of town and rounding up people—they were delighted with the attendance of 13 young people! The class began with a pre-test in which the young people had to decide if statements on stick-on notes were true or false. Then we discussed methods of HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention. Students were engaged in the discussions and a Q&A session. The amount of knowledge on HIV/AIDS transmission increased by the end of the session when we held a post-test with a true-false game.
The class concluded with a demonstration on the proper technique for using a condom. After the initial snickers from the participants, they became more engaged, and even asked to have continuing health classes.