Browsing Category: World AIDS Day

Team NOLA and Walgreens come together to Fight AIDS!

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Louie and his coworkers at the Walgreens testing in Algiers.

World AIDS Day has always been one of my favorite days of the year. You may be thinking- “What the heck?”- but it’s true. World AIDS Day is like the Superbowl for HIV prevention workers. It’s a day to observe how far we’ve come but reflect on how much more there is do. It’s a day to pay our respects to the millions who have lost their battle to the disease, while thanking and supporting the friends and families of those who have passed. It is also the day I bombard and bother my Facebook friends about getting tested without them replying, “Is HIV all you ever post about?” (Yes, but hey, someone’s got to do it!)

Team NOLA had quite an eventful World AIDS Day (and week). We collaborated with two different Walgreens  in order to offer free HIV testing to their customers. Louie’s agency, Priority Health, offered free testing in Algiers. Louie and his coworkers tested a total of 20 people in just a couple of hours!

NO/AIDS Task Force, the agency where Jeremy, Rebecca, and I are placed, offered free testing at the Walgreens in Uptown New Orleans. Our AmeriCorps team tested a total of 25 people in four hours. It was a huge success! The Walgreens manager gave us two private rooms. While Rebecca and I were testing and counseling, Jeremy and Louie took care of recruiting and keeping track of people waiting for their results. As cheesy as it sounds- we worked really well as a team and got some great feedback. Testing and counseling is what I love most about my placement, so I was thrilled to be a part of the Walgreens testing event. We even got a local Bounce radio station to come to the Walgreens and advertise our services. Almost all of the clients said they had heard there was free testing on the radio- so hey, whatever works!

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Our portable HIV testing kit!

Our agency offers free testing throughout the week, but we found that offering free testing in a convenient location brings in WAY more people. Buy shampoo, formula, chocolate…and get tested for HIV! The manager was so impressed with our team that she asked to make it a more regular event. Our AmeriCorps team will be in charge of helping to set up this wonderful opportunity, and we couldn’t be more excited.

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Jeremy, Alicia (volunteer), and me at the Walgreens testing event

 Of course there can’t be all work and no play. On Saturday, December 7th NO/AIDS Task Force held its Annual “Art Against AIDS” fundraiser. The fundraiser is an art auction and party at the New Orleans Museum of Art. AmeriCorps Team NOLA got all fancy and hit the gala- making sure to find the dance floor eventually. We had a wonderful time -and I only fell once in my heels!

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Left- Louie and me with our “Art Against AIDS” souvenirs Right- Louie, Me, Morgan, and Jeremy getting fancy

So all in all, World AIDS Day was a huge success over in New Orleans. Even the Superdome participated :)

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Until next time,

Helene

World AIDS Day with Team Cleveland

Team Cleveland in front of Care Alliance's testing Van at World AIDS Day

Team Cleveland in front of Care Alliance’s testing Van at World AIDS Day

This year for World AIDS Day,  team Cleveland partnered with the AIDS Funding Collaborative and Care Alliance Health Center to do outreach and testing at Tower City. In preparation for World AIDS Day our team created harm reduction business cards to be handed out alongside support ribbons. Throughout the day team members canvased public square and RTA bus/train stations handing out harm reduction cards, ribbons, and condoms. Care Alliance brought their outreach van where members did testing and HIV education.

At the end of the day all ten thousand of our harm reduction cards had been passed out, 58 HIV tests had been performed, and hundreds of condoms had been distributed! What an amazing number of people reached, and all in less than ten hours!

As an AmeriCorps member it is sometimes hard to see the impact we are making in our communities, at our placements, or with the individuals we work with. Often the work we do tends to have more long term effects rather than immediate results. Knowing the number of people reached or tests performed is satisfying because we can quantify our efforts into something tangible. However, the impacts made by outreach efforts such as World AIDS Day go far beyond these numbers.

Each condom, harm reduction card, and support ribbon is a seed planted within the mind of the receiver. The people we reached out to displayed a variety of reactions when offered free condoms and information about HIV. Some were delighted and intrigued while others were confused or disapproving. Regardless of their reaction, the important part is that for a split second we were able to get them to think about HIV and the importance of condom use.

Seeds don’t always germinate right away, and sometimes it takes multiple planting before a seed takes root. However, each outreach effort, condom, and harm reduction card is one more seed planted. One more step closer to the end of HIV.

Cooking Up an Exciting World AIDS Day with Team Chicago

To commemorate World AIDS Day (December 1, 2013), Team Chicago hosted an HIV testing event at Kendall College, a local college which specializes in culinary arts and hospitality.

This testing event not only provided us an opportunity to run an event on our own (without immediate aid or supervision of any other organizations), but it required us to work in an environment we weren’t used to, and with a population that our organizations rarely target. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for us, and perhaps more so for the Kendall College students.

We had a full day planned, which involved passing out condom packets (with candy, of course), HIV and other health information brochures, and providing free confidential rapid HIV testing to those who were interested.

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Eric arranging condom packets and brochures

Initially, we received a lot of interesting looks and responses. Many of us are accustomed to working in LGBT locations or clinics, where the ideas of practicing safer sex and seeking HIV testing are often drilled into you at every opportunity, so it was surprising, but reminded us that HIV can still carry a large amount of stigma in the rest of the world.

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Kassandra, Eric, and Sara providing outreach (and fun!)

Some students were very cautious about interacting with us, but would discreetly grab condom packets as they passed. Eventually, a few students warmed up enough to us to get tested. By the end of the event, we interacted with over 50 Kendall College students (and staff!), and tested over 20 people. Interestingly, only 1 of the students we tested identified as a male. This emphasized to us the importance of being aware of the many populations that could be affected by HIV, and of not being limited in our thinking of the people we should be targeting.

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Team Chicago after a job well done!

A few days following the World AIDS Day event, Team Chicago volunteered with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s World of Chocolate (an annual event that raises money to support AFC’s many programs by providing guests with a room full of myriad chocolate-themed concoctions). One of the many chocolatiers at the event was none other than Kendall College, with some students we’d interacted with even recognizing and thanking us for providing testing and information.

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A selection of the delicious chocolate provided by Kendall College!

It was a tasty end to a great week and World AIDS Day!

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Team Chicago at AIDS Foundation of Chicago event World of Chocolate

You want me to plan World AIDS Day?!?

In early October my supervisor asked me to plan the Damien Center’s World AIDS Day event. I was immediately overwhelmed. What was I supposed to do? How did one organization celebrate such an important event? I picked my co-workers’ brains and perused the internet for ideas. This year’s theme on AIDS.gov was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.” As we move forward to an AIDS-free generation, we must remember and understand the path that has made this possible. So I decided to celebrate the progress that has been made in the HIV/AIDS World AIDS Dayfield.

I wanted this celebration to remember the past, but also have fun activities that our clients, the staff, and the public would enjoy. I reached out to our talented and always eager Damien Center volunteers. It wasn’t long before I had musicians, massage therapists, a yoga instructor, and even a Zumba instructor lined up for the event. A pharmaceutical company even agreed to provide lunch and give a presentation about the history of HIV/AIDS. The presentation complemented a timeline that we hung in the main lobby noting key events in HIV’s history.

On Wednesday December 4 (World AIDS Day is on Dec. 1, but due to the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrated on the 4th), the event went off without a hitch! The waiting area was filled with the sounds of live music provided by local musician, Candyce Fujita, while three massage therapists offered back massages to everyone who walked by. In the conference room beginning yoga and Zumba classes were being offered for anyone wanting to try something new. The volunteers surprised me with their talents and exceptional generosity. The event was well attended and everyone said they enjoyed the day.

 While planning the event I realized several things. 1) There are many talented people willing to volunteer their time and skills if they are asked. 2) Community connections are important. 3) We need to celebrate our accomplishments more often. 4) Back massages and Zumba make any day amazing!!!

Catherine is a member of AIDS United’s AmeriCorps Team in Indianapolis, IN.

Reflections on World AIDS Day in D.C.

By Melissa Donze, Zamora Fellow

On the evening before World AIDS Day, I took a walk down to the White House after work. As a recent transplant to D.C., the sight of the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol still make me smile like a tourist. But this time, as I turned the corner and crossed through Lafayette Square, the sight of the White House took my breath away.

Draped across the North Portico was a big, red ribbon. It stood out so vividly against the white backdrop, and for a moment I stood there, frozen, completely entranced. It was an incredibly beautiful sight.

It’s been seven years since I first became actively involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS; seven years since I first started informing my high school peers about HIV; seven years since I found out that most people in my small hometown didn’t want to talk about sex or drugs or race or poverty because HIV “didn’t affect them.”

Admittedly, I was one of those people. I thought I was invincible, untouchable, unaffected. That all changed at the age of eleven, when I was diagnosed with Latent Tuberculosis. Nine months of medication, blood tests and doctor’s visits later, I stand here at the age of 22, happier and healthier than ever. I knew that the reason for my good health was the medicine I was taking, and despite financial struggles, there was never any question about affording my medication. I knew that in some way, I wanted to help those who weren’t given the chance to live, a chance I had been given without restriction or hesitation. It was a few years later on World AIDS Day 2005 that I learned about HIV through an amazing documentary, and it struck me like no other issue has struck me before; it is so incredibly preventable, yet there are still 30 million people living with HIV/AIDS today, over 1 million of which are in the United States.

Despite the fact that I had been commemorating World AIDS Day for years, this time felt different. It felt exhilarating. As I stood in front of the White House that night and gathered with strangers for a candlelight vigil the next day, I felt empowered in a way I had never felt before. There I was, standing in our nation’s capital, witnessing a fight that has always been so personal converging with the work I do daily in an incredibly powerful way. I am grateful every single day that I work at AIDS United as the Zamora Fellow, an opportunity that allows me to channel my truest passion into real, tangible progress and policy.

Just in the seven years that I have been involved in this fight, I have witnessed enormous progress. I have seen the advent of new science provide breakthrough methods of treatment and prevention. I have seen declines in transmission rates in many countries around the world. I have seen community-based organizations take innovative approaches to encourage testing and disseminate awareness about HIV-related issues. I have seen President Obama release the first ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which aims to reduce new HIV infections, increase access to care, reduce health inequities and HIV-related disparities, and coordinate a more effective response to the national epidemic.

At the same time, however, I see that incidence rates in the United States remain at around 50,000 new infections per year despite an abundance of information and resources to actually reduce the number of new infections. I see a huge disconnect in the number of people diagnosed with HIV and the number of people who have regular access to care and treatment. I see certain groups, especially young, African-American men who have sex with men (MSM), disproportionately affected by HIV. I see outdated policies and misguided notions perpetuate stigma and discrimination. I see newspaper columnists and government officials talk about the “global AIDS epidemic,” yet fail to consider HIV in the United States as part of this epidemic. I see an increasingly disillusioned population, in particular the youth, who do not care about HIV, who believe HIV doesn’t impact their lives in any way.

To them, I ask: Do you have sex? Do you have friends who have sex? If the answer is yes, then HIV has an impact on your life. Are you between the ages of 13-24? If the answer is yes, you are a part of the population that accounts for 25% of new HIV infections. HIV has an impact on your life. Do you live in an urban area or in the South, areas in which rates of HIV tend to be higher? If the answer is yes, HIV has an impact on your life. Do you have friends who have been tested for HIV? Have you yourself been tested for HIV? Regardless of your answer, HIV has an impact on your life.

This World AIDS Day, I remembered those we have lost, celebrated those still with us and reflected on the great strides we have made. In the face of the many challenges that confront us, I renewed my commitment to end this epidemic. We have come so far, and our success should be recognized. But we can’t let our past success preclude us from taking action today. We are at a crossroads in history; we have the science, political momentum and expertise to actually see the end of AIDS, but it requires us to take aggressive and coordinated action now.

I truly believe I will see the end of AIDS in my lifetime. Today, more than anything else, I have hope. And it is this hope that keeps me fighting every day.

A View of HIV from Kenya

by Julia Cheng, former AIDS United Zamora Fellow

Hello and habari zenu!

On this World AIDS Day, I greet you from Kenya.  I’m a Peace Corps volunteer working as a science teacher at a secondary school about 22 kilometers (about 14 miles) from the nearest paved road.  Two years ago, I was at AIDS United in the policy department as a Pedro Zamora fellow.

Today I’m Kisumu.  I’m running a half-marathon for Worlds AIDS Day.  Running this half marathon has got me thinking about the parallels between Kenya and in the U.S.   AU is finishing up its second year of the Team to End AIDS endurance training program.  That’s one similarity between the U.S. and Kenya.  But there are just as many differences for all the similarities.  In the year I’ve been here I’ve learned and experienced many things, some of which I wanted to share with you.

It might go without saying that my jobs in Kenya and in Washington, D.C. have been very different.  At AU, everyday, my work directly revolved around HIV and AIDS  and working on big picture issues.  As a teacher, my work has almost been the opposite.  Most of the time, I teach biology and physics which usually have little relevance to HIV.  But, once a week for each form (grade) I teach a life skills class where I get to talk about HIV, sex, goals, decision making, and all those unique challenges that teenagers and young adults face.  As a teacher, I work directly with students.

HIV in Kenya and the U.S. is very different.  Just by the statistics, Kenya differs from the U.S. by having a higher prevalence rate, around six percent.  Like other African countries, here the epidemic is generalized among the population.  But, attitudes to the virus are different too.  Ask any school age child what HIV or AIDS is and they’ll be able to tell you what it stands for, how you get it, and they might even be able to sing a song about it.  Yet, how well have they absorbed this information?  And of course, misinformation still abounds.

The biggest difference to me is not the misinformation–the things I heard growing up in Mississippi don’t always sound too different from here.  The major difference is comprehension and accesibility to alternative information.  In the U.S., there are books, libraries, the internet, or a trusted adult that a student can ask sensitive questions to.  In Kenya, that is not necessarily the case.  Access to books is lacking, at my school, students share the text books.  A few subjects have only three or four books for a classroom of forty.  Books outside of the required texts are rare and highly valued.  Students lack access to computers, the internet, and most importantly lack computer literacy.  The adult they may ask might have the same access or even less access to information as the student.  For those adults with information, the student may be too intimidated to ask.

Like all misinformation, some is obvious to students.  For example, during a model school exercise, I and other current volunteers asked students to play a game of “fact or myth.”  We had students write things they had heard about HIV and together, decided if they were facts or myths.  Some concepts, like “albino’s can’t get HIV,” students instinctively knew as a myth.  However, ideas like “condoms do not prevent against HIV” were more confusing.  My students and others across the country have heard both that condoms can protect them and that condoms are not 100% effective from veritable sources.  Which are they to believe?  Explaining why they might have heard both things and how both are true is where most of my work comes in.

Another big difference–that, to be honest, I haven’t quite yet figured out yet–are attitudes to testing.  For example, one life skills class, I decided to take my students to the local dispensary.  I wanted to expose them to where they could be tested and to show them what the process of testing and counseling looked like.  One of the clincians suggested that after the demonstration, students that wanted to be tested could do so.  I agreed, but expressed skepticism.  Yet, to my surprise, each and every student that I brought wanted to get tested.  This, despite my repeated assurances that they did not have to and were not expected to. In all, three fourths of the school (~160 students) were tested, the limiting factor become the number of available tests.

Attitudes and reactions to HIV are different everywhere.  Even attitudes and reactions to running are different everywhere.  In training for this half marathon, sometimes I’d have to explain myself.  In Kenya though, it’s easy for me to explain. Everyone here knows the word marathon since some of the top marathon runners in the world come from Kenya.  In some other places though, I don’t doubt most people would be craning their necks to see what I was running from.  In the U.S., attitudes to running and HIV can be highly geographic.  For HIV, this makes our job more difficult.  There’s no one method that we can use to tackle the epidemic.  But it can also help us.  Part of the reason I came here is that I’ve always appreciated learning from people different from me.  Learning how to live in a different country, run in a different country, and address HIV issues in a different country has made me a more capable person.  In a similar way, learning and experiencing other attitudes and ways of addressing HIV, we can become more capable at dealing with the full spectrum and diversity of our world and our country.