Saturday, September 28, 2013

HIV/AIDS: Defying Expectations

Two months ago, I facilitated an educational workshop on HIV/AIDS with another volunteer who specializes in health education and Collette, a health worker who works at the dispensary in a neighboring village. When I met her, I knew I was in the presence of a woman of true courage and conviction. Collette lives in a Catholic village in a country where families typically have four or more children and abortion is still prohibited by law. Yet, Collette defies the status quo by teaching about unwanted pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. Even the Peace Corps employees were shocked when I told them this. First, we separated the men from the women, who appeared in numbers twice that of the men. Then, we gave an overview of HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted. Then, we facilitated them in an exercise where they organize various activities in terms of low-risk, medium risk, and high risk, which included male and female condom demonstrations. In order to train them to decline risky activities, we facilitated them in role plays that engaged them in declining needle sharing and unprotected sex. We ended the workshop with a game in which the participants supported one another by holding them as they tipped toward the ground. This demonstrated that HIV-positive people needed to be succored, rather than ostracized, by their communities. At the end of the workshop, we were all rewarded with straw baskets. This, for me, was a positive sign in change in the culture: That the culture is learning to reinforce positive behavior by rewarding it. The workshop was such a success I am recommending Collette as a counterpart to a volunteer in the next Peace Corps group.

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