According to UNAIDS, in 2009, 33.3 million people worldwide were living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and there were 2.6 million new infections. Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 60 million people have been infected with HIV and nearly 30 million have died of HIV-related causes. In Central and South America, 1.4 million are infected with the virus. This number is minimal when compared with Sub-Saharan Africa where there are 22.5 infected, but HIV/AIDS is a rising problem, increasingly being spread by men who have sex with men (who do not necessarily identify as homosexual), and youth who do not use condoms and have multiple partners.
December 1st marks World AIDS Day and this past month, I have been teaming with local health volunteers, nursing students and youth health promoters to plan and execute HIV/AIDS educational sports tournaments in billiards and volleyball.
World AIDS Day was December 1st, and I requested funding from Peace Corps to organize the same type of tournament-style HIV/AIDS educational event, but this time with volleyball. Volleyball is a very popular sport in my town (you may remember from previous blogs that I was on a team for my first seven months in-site). I knew that using volleyball to spread HIV/AIDS education would let us reach the youth population and catch their attention, drawing spectators to watch the event and learn.
Eight teams (four male and four female) signed up, ages 14-24. The youth health promoters that I work with through the non-profit Plan International helped me write the proposal for the funds, organize the budget and give the informational talks about HIV/AIDS in-between the volleyball rounds. Two nurses from the Health Center and a Master of Ceremonies to play music and control the microphone also assisted. Another Peace Corps volunteer came from the city of Estelí to help me out as well. (Above, two of my favorite nurses and I at the tournament).
I was pretty nervous in the days before the event since all eight teams had not yet signed up. Was anyone even going to show up the day of the tournament? Would it rain? Would the electricity go out and we would be without music? I was worried that everything would fall apart – Nicaraguans are notorious for promising to help you with something, but at the last minute they fall through. We announced the tournament the usual way, via loudspeaker driving around the town two days before the tournament, calling for teams to sign-up. This did the trick and at 6 PM the night before, the final team had signed-up.
We also announced the tournament using a cloth banner hung in the street (another common way to spread news here). The youth promoters and I cut a couple hundred red ribbons for pinning on shirts for all the players and Health Center staff to signify solidarity for people living with HIV/AIDS. Before coming to Nicaragua, I had never actually met someone infected with HIV. After working as a community health volunteer here for a year and a half, I have had the opportunity to meet several HIV positive Nicaraguans who work in local HIV/AIDS support organizations and who fight for the rights of those who are living with the virus. After my experiences with them, I truly know the meaning of that red ribbon and what it means to wear it on December 1st.
For Christmas, I am going to visit my good friend Alana who is from my hometown in Alaska and is currently serving as a small business development volunteer in Peace Corps Peru! I have never been to South America and am looking forward to seeing Machu Picchu. A blog on my trip is soon to come!