Not everyone wants to or has the freedom to pick up and go to a foreign country to start working for little to no pay. I have been lucky enough to find myself in such a situation and would like to share this with as many people as possible.After graduating with a BA in Human Services: Social Action/Social Change, I decided to put some of my ideas into practice. I moved back home, got a full-time job, and started saving almost every penny that I earned.

By the end of the summer, I will have saved enough to support me (very modestly) for three months in Mozambique. I leave September 3rd, 2008.I plan to return to the Community Center in Nhamatsane, where I worked for much of last year. This time, I bring with me new information, new lesson plans, and a new mission. In the nine months that I spent in Mozambique in 2006 and 2007, I tried many different ideas and made many mistakes. I have seen the things that work and the things that absolutely do not.

For these reasons, my goal this time around is to completely rethink the words "charity," "poverty," and "development." I feel that a project's capacity for changing lives is not merely determined by how much money it has (though that certainly is a factor!), but who it touches and how.

To be a part of something incredible, we do not have to write a check without ever knowing where it really goes nor do we have to pack our bags and get on a plane. If we all give what we can, I guarantee that we will see amazing results!

While I leave most of you behind in the United States, what I do is not a one person job. I sincerely hope that this will perpetually be a learning experience for all of us, which is why I ask that we share our knowledge, fresh perspectives, and resources with each other.

Enjoy the blog!


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting down to business

Sooo this week I sent out the first batch of fundraising letters and ordered a book from hesperian.org (really cool site, check it out) called HIV, Health, and Your Community. Hesperian also published Where There is No Doctor, Where Women Have No Doctor, and Helping Health Workers Learn, the three books that were my guide and inspiration during my health classes last year. They have lots of illustrations and explain complex concepts in very simple and easily communicable ways.

Since my biggest endeavor this September will be creating a program specifically for HIV/AIDS education, I doing an IMMENSE amount of research and planning using my old lesson plans and teaching methods with the new information I have. To help me with this, I've spent a lot of time on www.aidsalliance.org, this non-profit that distributes free materials on HIV/AIDS and teaching about HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

As I read all these documents, highlighting, scribbling notes, drawing diagrams, and jotting down ideas, my head just starts spinning. There is so much to think about and so much potential both for incredibly beneficial results as well as not so positive reactions. First and foremost to consider is my undeniable position as the Outsider. Though I have already worked in the community, gotten friends, and will show my commitment by returning, aidsalliance and I differ on a couple of issues.

A.) Sex education will not be a staple of my lessons. I feel that in the rural communities, this would be seen as disrespectful. I absolutely intend on clearing up the myths that surround sex as it relates to pregnancy, STDs, and HIV, but I won't be holding a class where everybody is completely open about how they have sex and if they use protection, etc etc because that is not my place. I will discuss sex when it is relevant to the topic at hand, but I don't plan to make CAN a forum for the detailing of sexual escapades around the village. No thank-you.

B.) I feel that the material I've been reading from aidsalliance.org assumes that people know their HIV status. I really hope the publishers are aware that that is often not the case. The material suggests fighting stigma by encouraging communities to embrace their HIV+ members and encouraging the HIV+ to form support groups and to speak out. At this point, I'm going to opt out of telling HIV+ people that they should make themselves known and heard. The stigma in the community is still just too strong and unless we FIRST got the whole community involved, encouraging HIV+ people to out themselves (encouragement would imply that I believe that it will be better if they are public about their HIV status) could be dangerous. There's no sense in getting HIV+ people beat up. They kind of already have it rough enough.

I do like the way aidsalliance breaks things down. Maybe I'm just particularly fond of flow charts, but the diagrams make a lot of sense to me. The material educates the reader in the same way that it advocates the reader teach his or her student. It divides community action for HIV into categories and not just Prevention and Treatment. They take a fresh and realistic approach to the complicated nature of dealing with HIV education and, in fact, HIV itself.

The "All Together Now" (put out by AidsAlliance) model has four major categories: Prevention, Care and Support, ARV Treatment, and Impact Mitigation. Each of these is divided into appropriate methods of Assessing, Planning, Acting, Monitoring and Evaluating, and Scaling Up. The handbook emphasizes the importance of carefully choosing in which area you will work. This must be best suited to your abilities, knowledge, and resources. More on this as I try to figure out where that all leaves me.

I'd say hands down, the most valuable piece of information I collected from the 141 page handbook called "All Together Now! Community Mobilisation for HIV/AIDS" comes on page 13. It's a proverb in this little gray box in the lower right hand corner. It has a picture of a bird in it (not really sure about the bird's relevance... flying... wings... beak... beat... BEAT AIDS! ok got it). It says:
"Trust is a verb, not a noun! It is something you do; you have to build trust, it is never given freely."

As much as I had thought I understood that concept, I don't think I did. I think I got too wrapped up in the "job" aspect of what I was doing at the community center, meaning if I had no responsibilities that necessitated me being at the center, I would often just go home and plan my lessons there. I don't think that's the best way to do this. I need to be there. Even if I'm not doing anything. I just need to be there and make myself available as much as I can. And I want to be available. I want people to feel like they can come to me. I just need to make the effort. If I want people to get involved in their community, I have to be involved in it too. It's just going the extra mile that can make all the difference. I wish I had known this earlier... but I guess it just comes with age? Well jeez, if I keep finding out all these things I wish I had known earlier, I can't wait to be old.

Yes yes... it's a long way off, I know.

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