Thursday, December 13, 2007

Inauguration Marks Big Step Forward

I had the pleasure of attending the inauguration of the project entitled “Talking about HIV and AIDS, Strategy for the Empowerment of People Affected”. Before I comment on the afternoon I should first explain the jist of the project. This project formally establishes the HIV Self Help Group that is run in the region known as the Occidente, the three northwest regions of Nicaragua. The project is funded jointly by a German NGO, Arbeiter Samariter Bund Deustschland, and the German Government; both had representatives that addressed the crowd that had gathered and the members of the HIV group. The group’s office has been established in CISAS-León and will be autonomous. That said, the group will count on CISAS’ continued support to coordinate events and maintain a high level of performance.

Having a peer group of support is a vital component to living or battling any disease or ailment. This becomes even more essential with HIV and AIDS because of the heavy stigma and perception that abounds throughout any culture and place in the world. This group already has served as a guiding light and a place to gain hope battling for one’s rights. It is the hope of all the parties involved, that the existence of this group will mark a change in the way HIV is perceived in these communities and in Nicaragua.

The Group’s coordinator, a woman who has become a beacon of strength for many in the Group, addressed the crowd about the importance of solidarity and their goals. It was a speech full of passion that marked the objectives of the Group, but more importantly, it acknowledged that the rights of people who live with HIV are the same as those who don’t.

Both German officials that spoke touched on the power of solidarity, be it local or international, and did so in a manner that was heartfelt. The segments of their speeches that stuck with me depict certain truths about HIV both globally and locally. The representative from the German Embassy stated how for the first time in a long time HIV rates rose in Germany, and how it shocked a lot of people. He acknowledged that the fight and struggle against HIV and AIDS is perpetual and demands continued attention. In the face of the pandemic complacency is simply failure. The other German was the NGO representative and he closed his speech in an eerie manner that demonstrates the reality of living with the virus here. He stated that they know some of the group members will no longer be alive to see the end of the project, which is three years from now. The matter of fact style did not sit well with me and no one can ever blame the gentleman for sugar coating the truth.

This Group is much needed and the work they have already done and will continue to do is inmeasurable. I want to stress that the inauguration was a success and a reason to celebrate. However, the last thing I want to mention was something that I continually thought about while seated in the front row. During the speeches and the songs I imagined myself seated with a few of the HIV positive friends I made at Open Hand and the people I interviewed. I could only imagine their response to some of the choruses to the songs and the closing line by the NGO official. The songs, created for the event, seemed to me to be a little out of place. A good deal emphasized the fear one should have of contracting the “terrible HIV virus” and how if you contract it all your “happiness will leave”. These MAY be true (especially when treatment is adequate at best), but with all the HIV positive people in the crowd and the marking of the HIV Self Help Group, I believe all the stress should have been on living with HIV, solidarity, the breaking of stigma, and to the assurance of equal rights. However, I soon realized that I was not with those same people, and the mindset they have is unfortunately not realized here yet.

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