A worldly opportunity for a Coldstream youth gave her a real feel for what those living with HIV deal with overseas.
Young professional Mya Brewis lived and worked in Kingston, Jamaica as an intern through the Canadian International Youth Internship Program from January to July 2016.
Funded through Global Affairs Canada, the internship was hosted by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) who selected 17 interns from across Canada to live in one of seven countries around the world. Interns worked with organizations focused on fighting the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) epidemic and Brewis served as the full time New Media and Communications intern with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC). The CVC is a registered charitable organization in Jamaica comprising a coalition of community leaders and non-governmental agencies providing services directly to and on behalf of Caribbean populations who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection.
Prior to the internship, she had little knowledge about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Approximately 30,000 people live with HIV in Jamaica and barriers to prevention and treatment still exist. Through work with the CVC, Brewis learned about these barriers, such as the lack of access to services and justice, equality of HIV+ people, and stigma and discrimination. She assisted with human rights and gender-based violence workshops and the CVC’s grants program, and discovered the alarming rates of human right’s violations happening throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Stigma and discrimination stood out as the main culprit to preventing and treating HIV, especially amongst vulnerable populations. For when any person is stigmatized, discriminated against, disrespected in a healthcare setting, or is subjected to violence in accessing HIV/AIDS services, the health and human dignity of everyone in that community are threatened.
Vulnerable populations most at risk of HIV are marginalized youth, injection drug users, sex workers, women and girls, men who have sex with men, mobile/migrant populations, and prison inmates/ex-mates.
“In an effort to get the real feel of those living with the disease, I started to collect anonymous feelings, thoughts and reflections of HIV positive people,” said the former Kidston Elementary and Kalamalka Secondary student. “Close to 50 thoughts were collected and my intent was to mimic the community art project Post Secret.”
Post Secret allows anyone to mail their secrets anonymously to the project creator’s home in the U.S.A.
“It was insightful to hear from those living with this disease and their personal stories,” said Brewis. “As I learned how detrimental stigma and discrimination can be toward HIV+ people, I believe education can help prevent these thoughts and behaviours, which was the goal of my project – to spread awareness about HIV and those living with it – so people would think twice before discriminating against anyone.”
A few of the feelings, thoughts and reflections she collected include:
• “I used to feel bad; afraid to go out, walk and everything. But now I feel happy”
• “I have grown to love it. I accept it as a part of my life. Then at times, why I get depressed”
• “It makes me feel lonely. It changed my life”
• “Living with HIV is not something I would want, not even for my enemy. Sometimes I become so stressed, depressed and inferior. But it had helped me to accept myself, love my abusers, and each time I think of giving up, I remember why I held on for so long”
• “At first it was hard, but going to workshops and meetings, it has helped me to look back on my life and think differently. I am now outspoken, motived and don’t care what others think. Because now I am living for me and my kids”
• “I fear not seeing my children grow up. I want to see them go on their first date. I fear how people will treat my children if I die”
• “HIV has drawn me closer to God. I think I have been to hell and back”
• “I felt betrayed; it was unbelievable that I was given this disease. I felt I was given a death sentence”
• “I am feeling quite okay now (since becoming HIV+) because I got motivated in the support groups that I attended”
• “Employment problems and isolation (are challenges I face since becoming HIV+)”
Brewis is now back home and hunting for her next work opportunity. To learn more about HIV/AIDS and the work of all the interns, visit their collective blog http://blog.icad-cisd.com/?cat=82