Thursday, November 29, 2007
A 40 year old man:
¨Vamo Amigo, ¿solo uno? Necesito otro¨
Translation = ¨Come on friend, only one? I need another¨
A 10 year old boy:
¨Por favor, quiero traer una a mi madre¨
Translation = ¨Please, I want to bring one to my mother¨
What it means...
Reproductive and sexual education is having an affect on people when the issues are brought to them and resources are provided.
I had the priviliege today of watching the younger generations of Nicaraguans attempt to change the future of their country by reaching out to teach their community. After a 20 minute program, adolescents came to get the free phamplets and condoms. Middle aged men followed asking for extras, and lastly the women approached slowly and quietly asking for some as well. By the end, over 200 condoms had gone out, 150 Awareness phamplets, and 100 larger cartoon style booklets.
As we walked through the streets people stared at the brighly colored faces of 10 teenaged nicaraguans. The stares continued as we entered the dimly lit market that welcomes you to the bus terminals. Along with the market comes the smoke and smell of fried food and the street children from 8 to 11 selling oranges or asking for a cordoba (1/18th of a dollar). I turned to see the line of intrigued people of all ages follow our crew of clowns. We settled in the middle of it all and the show began.
Sí!!! or No!!!! That is what was yelled in unison after short skits about how HIV is transmitted. Props like plates and cups showed that HIV is not transmitted through sharing forks, cups, or through saliva. Sneezing, handshakes, and using a public restroom were among the skits that followed. The Sí concentrated on sharing needles (see side bar slideshow) and the use of condoms to pratice safe sex. I was pleasantly surprised at the response after the show ended. In the face of poverty free things are either eagerly grabbed for or hesitantly accepted or denied. However, having a 40 yr old man ask me for a second condom, a bus driver asking if he could have 25 phamplets for this passengers, an elderly woman ask me for two condoms for her daughters, and then two teenage males asking me how they can join the clowns, it left a mark that shows how even the most serious of conversations and causes can be done in a creative and imaginative way.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I entered the office I sat in 16 months ago. The feel was the same, the atmosphere was the same, but it was evident that things have changed. For starters, in the past it was myself, Martha, and Ingrid talking and working on two out dated computers that were not connected to the Internet. Now the same room was filled with 7 people and 4 work stations; 3 of which boast computers connected to the Internet. The next thing was the people. They have added paid staff and their numbers of volunteers has increased, both in terms of locals and forgieners. 7 people in room that used to be 3 - 2 from Germany, 1 from Spain, 3 from Nicaragua, and 1 from the USA. All speaking spanish and planning different programs, flyers, and activities to promote health in León and in the rural communities.
Tomorrow I will go along with community health promotors who will be handing out condoms, awareness phamphlets, and putting on a clown show about the methods of transmission. A common misconception among some Nicaraguans is the transmission of HIV through public restrooms, which is an area I have been told is incorporated rather comically in the skit. When I last departed this group of promotors and ´clowns´were beginning their training, so it will be extra special to see how they have come full circle.
The progress at CISAS has also had its effect on the HIV Self Help Group. Today I had the chance to talk to one of the ladies I had originally met at the start up of the HIV Self Help group. The shy woman I had met in the past was gone. She had been transformed into a leader, a spokeswoman, and she spoke about the changes that have come over the last year with pride. Although they have lost some members due to the virus and some even because of arguments, the group has grown significantly and even has a second group in the city of Chinandega. Chinandega is a more rural city that is notorious for its poverty and garbage dumps. On Dec 6th the self help group will be opening their new office, which is a room upstairs and connected to CISAS. She was very excited about the new room and the phone line being put in to establish a HIV hotline for people to call with all kinds of questions or concerns. Something as simple as a phone number to dial can make a world of difference, especially in a place where the fear of discrimination and isolation runs so high.
Tomorrow: Promoting HIV Awareness in the Streets of León
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
The Perfect Plunge
There is something about being in a room full of students who have come from 25 different universities across the country to discuss the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Whether it is the passion and drive that is reflected in the discussions or the common belief that access to preventable and treatable diseases is a basic human right, the energy in the room depicts a piece of a movement that fosters a human quality much needed in the light of so much tragedy, inequality, and oppression - this quality is simply hope.
In small group discussions, the beauty of FACE AIDS comes alive. Big state schools (such as Michigan) and little Jesuit school (like Fairfield and Gonzaga), large established chapters (like Texas) and brand new budding chapters (like University of Wyoming). It is a testament to the drive and beauty of activism and solidarity. Also, fundraising $850,000 for the Partners in Health Clinics in Rwanda demonstrates the merits and influence of such activism and unity.
I got the chance to ask Dr. Farmer (who by the end of the evening shook my hand and for better or worse jokingly called me a character) one of the questions I will be using when interviewing managers/directors of HIV organizations in the different regions. The question asks people to comment on what is needed most in this fight against HIV. Jim Kim, the former WHO director and co founder of PIH, stated at the first national FACEAIDS conference that political will is the key to large scale change. This was then echoed by Stephen Lewis, Kofi Annan’s special envoy on AIDS in Africa, at the 2nd National FACE AIDS Conference. The Dali Lama, in a documentary that featured Dr Farmer, placed the strongest emphasis on human compassion, and lastly, many say the biggest gains will be made through enhancing infrastructure of clinics.
Farmer thanked me for my question and answered the way I knew he would. To paraphrase, one is not more important than the other. The pandemic is a multifaceted problem that must be resolved through several avenues. For instance, he used the example of food. He discussed how much nutrition plays a role in resource poor areas and how many people debate and comment on whether his clinics should and could sustain paying for food (which he said accounted for 20% of the Rwandan clinic budget). In his matter of fact style the sentences that followed embodied his most basic belief and approach to successful healthcare. It is the whole picture one must understand, band aids don’t work to cover a severed limb, and barriers remain unless broken down or maneuvered around. What good is putting someone on ARV’s if they are starving to death? Food is part of the equation of a healthy life.
The successes of PIH in Rwanda has created a stir among those in public health, and yet the secret is not hiding under a rock in Kigali. PIH has created a model that is well funded through the donors (heavily in part by the Clinton Foundation) and that has a government that is willing to seriously take on a crisis and do everything it can to make PIH a success. There is a reason people in southwest Rwanda are living a little better than 5 years ago. There is a reason PIH is revolutionizing health care in resource poor areas. There is a reason PIH has been asked to scale up there efforts to the national level, and there is a reason for hope in Rwanda.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
This is the project's blogsite, but more importantly this will act as a journal and "inside scoop" to what I am doing, where I am, and what the culture and community is like.
What Can You Expect?
Expect to read about my experiences abroad and what life is like where I am staying. I will make simple notes and observations about the culture, scenery, people, and organizations in which I am volunteering. Expect interesting links of articles or data that are relevant to where I am. Expect pictures I take to provide a mental image and allow you to visualize the world around me.
How Can You Get Involved?
Come by periodically and visit. I will post every 3 days! This blogsite is meant to be interactive and keep people interested and, most importantly, involved. Click the pictures, utilize the links, and stay a part of the project. I invite you to post comments, suggestions, or even simple responses to my posts.
Let the Conversations Begin...
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Weekend FACE AIDS Conference at Stanford University
I co-ran this national conference last year at Fairfield University and think it is a great way to begin the traveling part of the project. Dr. Paul Farmer, an inspirational and world reknowned doctor of social medicine, will be the keynote speaker and several other noteworthy and passionate specialists, public health officials, and media personnel will all be part of workshops and panel discussions regarding global HIV and cutting edge topics, such as microbicides and the "scaling up" of the very successful health programs run in Rwanda by Partners in Health. (To learn a little about Dr. Farmer and how Partners in Health is literally changing the world one community at a time read this brief article from Forbes Magazine )
Getting the West Coast Perspective
After attending this Conference, I will be volunteering in San Francisco at a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing nutritional support to people who are critical ill or fighting HIV. The organization is called Open-hand, and to learn a little more about them their website is Openhand.org. For the majority of the two weeks I will be in San Francisco I will be staying at University of San Francisco as a favor from the Jesuits. Again, I am lucky to have the support of St Peters Prep and Fairfield University, both have been extrordinary in aiding in whatever ways possible. It is exciting to think that 6 months of work and preparation will be realized in a few days.
The interview questions have been read over by infectious disease doctors, HIV volunteers, program directors, and several other keen minds. I have taken to heart suggestions and feel the questions balance both the humanistic perspective and the on-going struggle against HIV.