World AIDS Day 2012 – Getting to Zero

Hello again from down here in Barbados! Lots has been happening with the dance4life mtvU project…

In the last post I described the Photovoice process we are doing with the dance4life youth at Harrison College, one of the secondary schools in Barbados. To refresh y’all….Photovoice is a participatory action research method that enhances the voice of community members through the creation of photos and narratives. The goal is to use these photos and narratives not just as creations of art, but tools that connect youth voice to program development and policy making. When I last wrote, the Photovoice project had just begun, and our collaborators at PEPFAR (US President’s Emergency AIDS Relief Plan) were interested in tailoring the first round of Photovoice to the World AIDS Day 2012 – Getting to Zero events at the US Embassy. As per the request of PEPFAR, youth were asked: What does an AIDS-free generation look like? Each of the students in the project took one photograph and wrote one narrative in response to this question. All of the photos and narratives were on display at the US Embassy, and we were all invited to give a presentation to the US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Larry L. Palmer. Elsewhere in the world “Secretary Clinton commemorated World AIDS Day 2012 and unveiled the PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-free Generation.” Oh Hillary Clinton……. take a look over here!

Photo courtesy of US Embassy Bridgetown – Harrison College youth with Ambassador Palmer

Photo courtesy of US Embassy Bridgetown

Photo courtesy of US Embassy Bridgetown

The youth prepared an informative and eloquent presentation for the Ambassador that covered topics from stigma and discrimination, the need for a youth-focused health center on the island, and one particular issue that the youth have identified as a barrier to positive sexual health: The fact that the age of consent for sexual interaction is 16, however youth are not able to access HIV/STI testing, condoms, or treatment until the age of 18 (without parental consent). Ambassador Palmer was interested in learning more about this issue, as well as the other topics brought up by the youth. After the presentation we were invited to a panel discussion at the US Embassy that further explored barriers and facilitators to positive sexual health and the role of young people in achieving an AIDS free generation. The panel was facilitated by Corey Sandiford from VYZE, a group that “encourages sharing of personal experiences, photos & videos as a positive outlet for the issues that impact on the lives of young people.” Panel audience members included individuals from the US Embassy, PEPFAR, the dance4life team, community members, and Dr. Anton Best, the Senior Medical Officer of Health for the HIV/AIDS Program with the Ministry of Health in Barbados (who I’ll be meeting with next week). Here are a few of the photos and narratives that were on display at the US Embassy for the World AIDS Day Events. The photos and narratives below were created by three students at Harrison College who agreed to share these through my blog.

“My photo depicts a branch of the pride of Barbados flower in which two pictures of anonymous teenagers are blended into the top left hand corner and the bottom right hand corner. I believe that an AIDS-free generation can be achieved by informing the youth about this disease. If we, the youth, can spread awareness to others, then this disease can be eradicated from its roots. Imagine if there are no new cases of HIV! The transmission of this disease has come to an end. My goal of an AIDS free generation would be close enough to touch. Soon, AIDS awareness would be a normal routine and ways of protection would be practiced regularly. Added to that, the stigma attached to persons who have already transmitted HIV would no longer exist. Instead, those persons would be treated with love and compassion.”

“An AIDS free generation represents hope and limitless opportunities for generations to come. The road may be long, uphill and winding but at the end the rewards will be great. To achieve such a goal requires determination by each and every individual, to get involved because this affects each and every one, maybe not directly but definitely indirectly. The picture represents a brighter future, the rays of the sun depict hope that the goal for an AIDS-free environment is achievable. According to Norman Cousins- “The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started”. The picture relates to me and shows that determination and lending myself to the cause will translate into hope for all. It shows that after the dark clouds are lifted the future will be brighter. It helps me to understand that every problem has a solution, only if we change our attitude.”

“This picture is a representation of freedom. The freedom of living and breathing in pure innocence without having to worry about what you may face or even the events which have yet to come. By capturing my younger sister, a certain level of purity shines through. The message of freedom is therefore strong, the liberty of living life without any constraints, nothing holding you back. That is what an AIDS-free generation is, a society with no concerns as to what will happen, just knowing that they are safe and out of harm’s reach. However, in order to achieve this desired freedom we need to ensure that our generation is made aware of the repercussions presented by their actions. In particular are the youth. AIDS is very real and is not at all something to be taken lightly.”

During this first round of Photovoice youth explained that it is often challenging to navigate through all of the messages they receive related to HIV/AIDS, sexuality, sexual health, and decision making. Many of the youth explained they feel trapped in a sense; often receiving opposing messages about the issue of sex. This is often due to a lack of consistency across their different sources of information. For instance, at school youth are often bombarded with an abstinence only approach to sexuality, while at the same time being bullied by their peers for not engaging in sexual activities. Youth are also told that the legal age for consensual sex is 16, however they cannot seek services that will help them achieve positive sexual health until they are 18. Because of these challenging and conflicting messages, many students spoke about an AIDS-free generation being one in which young people possess the freedom to make their own, informed decisions.

All of the photos and narratives created by the youth were posted on the US Embassy Bridgetown Public Affairs blog everyday leading up to the World AIDS Day Events on November 29th, 2012.

We are considering implementing a Photovoice project in another secondary school on the island! For now, the Harrison College students will start working on their next round of Photovoice to which they will address the question: What is the most challenging issue facing youth? The past few weeks I have also been meeting with individuals from LIVE UP: Love.Protect.Respect. LIVE UP is “the Caribbean’s first media–led campaign on HIV/AIDS. Developed by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS (CBMP), a coalition of more than 92 leading television and radio broadcasters representing over 24 nations, the campaign seeks to inspire and empower people across the region, especially youth, to help stem the spread of the disease and reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.” LIVE UP: The Show, a television program that is broadcast throughout the Caribbean, is hoping to showcase dance4life and the mtvU Photovoice project in the new year!

I’m hoping to connect with Rupee, a soca musician, as well as a group called Ashe, in the coming weeks. Ashe is a Jamaican-based music group that aims to “inspire and foster empowerment of all people, exclusive of none, to live a life of integrity and fulfillment, doing what they love and loving what they do.” Hopefully we will create partnerships with these performers in order to merge the use of photography, narrative, music, and dance as vehicles for engaging youth voice in efforts towards an AIDS-free generation.

Till next post…

11 thoughts on “World AIDS Day 2012 – Getting to Zero

  1. AMAZING!!! These photos and narratives are incredible. Cant wait to visit and see all of the work you’re doing and meet some of the people whose lives you are touching. Keep at it lady! So proud of you! xoxo


  2. Thank you so very much, Jenny! I cannot wait to show you some of the work when you are visiting! Thank you for being such a great mentor to me – ALWAYS!


  3. Katherine, excellent work! The enthusiasm demonstrated by you and the students at Harrison College and The Dance4life crew is inspiring!


  4. Katherine, this is very inspiring! The student narratives were my favorite part. I give you a lot of credit for taking a more collaborative approach to your work. Thank you!


  5. Thank you Lisa! We definitely couldn’t have done it without your help and initiative! And Albulena – wow! Collaboration is incredibly important to me, so there is no greater compliment I could receive. Thank you for that.


  6. inspirational stuff, katherine! and speaking of collaboration, can’t wait to do so when i hit the ground in less than three weeks!


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