Peace Corps helps fight HIV/AIDS in JA

| Tuesday, February 16, 2010 |

Thomas Gill is in the last six months of his stay in Jamaica as a part of the Peace Corps. Gill, who has been stationed in Mandeville for the past year, has been deployed to the Jamaica Red Cross as part of the HIV, youth outreach and CPR training programmes.

"I work primary out of the Red Cross office, but there are many projects that take me out of the office and into the communities to meet some really great people every day," Gill said.

Curt Lindley has been in the island for six months, but he still has to live with the label of being a tourist. At the start of his two-year term, Lindley finds it difficult that he way is perceived by the people he meets every day.

"As far as I am concerned I live in Jamaica, it is my home. But it bothers me that I still can't walk down the street without people giving me the tourist approach."

Lindley works through a comprehensive clinic in Mandeville where he trains expectant and post-natal mothers breastfeeding techniques.

'It's very funny how I have to approach them, because I have say 'Mi nuh have nuh pickney, mi nuh have nuh breast' and then they burst into laughter. At first it was very embarassing, but now I see the fun in it and go on with the lesson."

Heather Ludvigson, who came in the same batch as Lindley, lives in Westmoreland in a section of Lamb's River called Rattrap. She teaches grades five and six at the Kew Park All-Age.

She describes her community as deep rural, where there is lots of heart among the children and very little money in their parent's pockets.

"Where I live with my husband, it is sad to say that a lot of the times children don't come to school every day and that they are having sex at a young age without knowing the risks." Ludvigson said.

"But I have to make them realise the risks in a fun way, so they can understand better," she added.

So what the big deal you may ask?

The Peace Corps has intensified its role in the global effort to fight HIV/AIDS by training all volunteers as educators and advocates of HIV/AIDS prevention and education. With Caribbean having the second highest infection rate, after Sub-Saharan African, they have been asked to focus on eliminating stigma as part of their mandate.

Regardless of their primary project (be it education, health training, agriculture, entrepreneurship, economics, food security, etc), all volunteers will be equipped to play a role in addressing the multiple health, social, and economic problems related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

For Lindley, Gill and Ludvigson and the other volunteers that mandate has been implemented in an art programe through the children they get to interact with.

The HIV art programme was piloted in Jamaica, Peru, Nicaragua and Morrocco with students in the countries approaching the same topics simultaneously.

The programme is aimed at identifying and reducing stigma among young children and TEENs in 20 schools across the island. The students are asked to submit artwork or poetry that show how individuals infected and affected with HIV/AIDS should be treated.

"With the programme, we related HIV/AIDS stigma with race and differences in social status. So we told them that it's just as wrong to judge someone by their skin, as it is wih their HIV status," Lindley said.

The big deal is some of the art collected will be be added to those produced by the other pilot nations and put in a book that will be distributed nationally and worldwide.

Another aim of the project to get the kids to take what they learn and take it into their communities," Gill explained, when the trio spoke to TEENage recently.

"We had a three-day camp in southern Manchester with the focus being peer counselling," Gill added.

The camp hosted 27 students, from DeCarteret College, Manchester, Mile Gully, Christiana Spaulding, Cross Keys high schools and New Forest Primary and Junior High school.

The students were chosen based on interactions through the art programme. The were given training and were asked to design projects to take out into their communities.

Since the Peace Corps service began in 1961 with the first volunteers began working in Jamaica in 1962, more than 3,400 volunteers have served in Jamaica. The Caribbean gets four per cent of all Peace Corps volunteers and a combined 57 per cent of the volunteers work in areas of education, health and HIV/AIDS.





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