From HIV to hope

Having a blast at the hospital with Luis and Julio

December 1st was the World AIDS day. Janne blogs about how this day went by in Iquitos:
Though everyone, regardless of age, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and lifestyle can be affected by HIV/AIDS, the fact is that persons in the sex industry (and in particular younger women) are much more vulnerable to becoming infected. Here in Iquitos, there are exceptionally high levels of child exploitation and prostitution, which contributes to the fact that Iquitos is the city with the second highest cases of HIV infections in Peru.

La Restinga's approach to this issue is broad and includes everything from education, to workshops, to theatre, to visual arts projects. This year, one of the highlights was taking part in a campaign against discrimination towards people living with HIV. All the kids got t-shirts that said VIH (HIV in spanish), and were given the chance to change that word into something like VIVO (I live), VIVIR (live), or VIDA (life). This was to send the message that getting HIV is not neccesarily a death sentence, and those who are infected are not just sick people, or case studies, but living human beings.

After everyone had made their own shirt, we went to the regional hospital, where we split into groups and asked the medical personal if they wanted to be part of the campaign. If they accepted, we put the VIH shirt on them and painted symbols and words on it while talking to them about how they could work to stop discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

This was super interesting, because there is still a lot of fear within the medical community (some medical personell still insist on putting on gloves before examining a HIV patient, which is of course ludacris, since HIV cannot be spread through physical touch). The campaign turned out to be a huge success, and we had a ton of people coming up to us asking how they could get involved. When we ran out of t-shirts, some people (including patients at the hospital) came up to us insisting that we paint directly onto whatever clothes they were wearing [...]

Aside from this event, La Restinga has been working all throughout the month of November, dealing with issues of sexuality, gender roles and gender identity, abuse, trafficking, and STIs (sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS). I got the exciting challenge of co-teaching a weeklong workshop with an overview of all of these issues with some of the younger kids (10-13yrs), which was really interesting and but also daunting. The average age of first sexual intercourse in Iquitos is 14yrs (and in some isolated parts of the city it's as low as 12yrs), which is scary and heartbreaking (especially because sexual abuse definitely lowers the average). Given all the health risk associated with this, it's extremely important to start talking to the kids about these issues at an early age.

Les mer: Janne in Perú

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