"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Becoming Informed

This week, I had the privilege to attend a 5-day PEPFAR Conference in Kyiv with the sociologist from my school, one of my 10th Formers, and 20 other Volunteers and their Ukrainian partners. PEPFAR (President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) started in 2003 by President Bush to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. While some might be quick to criticize PEPFAR or the education of HIV/AIDS, I now know first hand what an incredible impact it is having in Ukraine to educate many, stop discrimination, continue to save lives and fight the spread of this deadly virus

What was nice about this conference was being able to dig so much deeper into the topic of HIV/AIDS. I've done trainings before but this allowed us time to focus on history, biology, ways of transmission, most at risk populations, stigma & discrimination, as well as project planning and goal setting with our community partners. We met HIV+ individuals and they shared their stories and gave us so much knowledge. We were able to ask them open and frank questions regarding their status and their lives, making the topic hit so much closer to home for all of us.  

There are so many misconceptions and myths all over the world regarding HIV/AIDS. Personally, the two most important things I think that should be taught are the ways of transmission and reducing stigma and discrimination. I know that Ukrainians aren't closed minded because I work side by side with compassionate and caring people every day, but if you lack knowledge about something, than certainly anything you hear can be true, especially if the topic is as serious and sometimes frightening, like the topic of HIV/AIDS. 

Knowledge is power people, as is evident from this poster I made in Ukrainian Langauge lesson at the conference.

Become Informed, It's Better than the Alternative

Facts that I think are worth sharing. All data from 2011

  • HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine is one of the fastest growing in the world, with 1.3% of the population currently infected with HIV making it the highest population in Europe
  • About half of those HIV+ individuals know of their status 
  • The overwhelmingly common way of transmission, in Ukraine, is through the sharing of needles or syringes (An estimated 278-378,000 intravenous drug users in UA)
  • An estimated 360,000 HIV+ persons in Ukraine 
  • Only 22% of those living with HIV/AIDS are receiving antiretroviral treatment

It's good to be back in Kolky and I'm ready to be back in the classroom. I hope my weeklong absence will be a good conversation starter for some and I'm able to share my experience and the knowledge gained. The three of us from Kolky came up with so many simple, but effective plans to help educate others, because on a fundamental level, knowledge is the most sustainable things I feel I can leave behind. 

On the note of leaving things behind, I want to say THANKS YOU so much to those that are supporting me with my Book Drive. I have had a lot of positive feedback from friends and family all over. Books and funds are being gathered by congregations, work offices, non-profit organizations and connections are being made with so many people from all over the States. If you are interested in supporting me and my community with this project, I'd be happy to answer any questions. Contact me on Skype (ben.hogue), Facebook, or email!

Ben, Nadika, and Natalia
The Kolky PEPFAR Trainers!

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