The Kinky Green

Knowledge is Power (Or We Can’t Live with Our Heads in the Sand)

Posted in Peace Corps Adventures by Joy on November 9, 2013

Earlier this week something totally awesome happened. 149 people in my community came out to get tested for HIV.

Sub-saharan Africa has some of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, & my area has some of the highest infection rates in Zambia. Countless NGOs work daily to sensitize people about the disease, debunk myths & false beliefs, educate about prevention, & provide testing, counseling, & treatment. Peace Corps Zambia receives funding from PEPFAR (a Bush program focused on HIV), & as such all volunteers here do some HIV/AIDS work.

I am extremely lucky to have an active Neighborhood Health Committee in my area & an exceptionally motivated counterpart named Lista. A couple of months ago, Lista joined me for PEPFAR training. Then she came back to Kagunda & started putting what she’d learned into action. Everywhere she goes, she’s sharing & educating. From church meetings to her savings club to the girls’ group. Man, I love this woman.

For this week’s event, Lista & I worked closely together to get an NGO called Corridors of Hope to come out to our monthly Under-5 Clinic & provide HIV testing & counseling. At Lista’s suggestion, we asked the head teacher of our local school to inform students of the event so they could relay the message to their parents and, for those 16 & above, come out to get tested.

Shortly after the folks from Corridors of Hope arrived on Tuesday, students from the school started trickling onto the clinic grounds. Wave after wave came, clad in their blue uniforms. The head teacher had done our request one better: he let everyone old enough to get tested out of school early for the day & sent them directly to the clinic.

Lista gathered them all around & talked to them about how HIV is transmitted & how to prevent it. She demonstrated proper condom usage & kept the youths actively engaged while they awaited their turns for testing.

Almost all of the women who attended the Under-5 Clinic got tested, even though it meant waiting longer on an already long day, at least one child in tow. One of the village headmen came out to be tested with his wife. The head teacher came out for his own test. People returning from a funeral in another village stopped on their way home.

I couldn’t have been more proud.

In a country where polygamy is accepted practice, infidelity is incredibly common, condom usage is stigmatized, sex work is spurred by poverty, early marriages find young girls in relationships with much older men… well, it’s just so important to know your status. To know what HIV & AIDS are & what you can do to protect yourself & your loved ones. To be able to have open discourse about these very real threats and, yes, about what it means to live with them.

I had hoped for 50 people to get tested. To see 3 times that number step up & decide knowing was better than living with their heads in the sand? It blew me away.

The best part? Not 1 positive test in the bunch.