Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One Small Good Thing

It's done! The following is what I submitted to the Cadena about my HIV Workshop:

The entirety of my service seems to come down to this. It wasn't an accident. I've been calling it, "my baby," my "legacy project" for months. And it has literally taken months for this one day to come together. The HIV infection rate in my barrio is estimated to be one infected person for every ten residents. One in ten. 10% of the population. So I give some charlas, start talking about what no one wants to talk about. Inevitably, I know that my voice, is just one voice, in one small place in the world that not even Google Maps can focus on. Christian mythology says that hope springs from the tiniest mustard seed, but futility was beginning to lap at my mustard seed. I was sitting in a meeting of my Junta de Proteccion zoning in and out of consciousness as they ranted about the dangers of traigamonedas. I could hardly mask my indignation... Drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, delinquency, HIV/AIDS and the group that is suppose to be protecting kids is worried about glorified pinball machines. "I'm outta here" I thought, and then my do-gooder conscious part said, "Quit whining and do something about it. Teach them."

I had done some work at the local HIV/AIDS clinic and suggested to the nurse there that we host a taller(workshop) for professionals educating them about HIV/AIDS. The hospital was already involved in doing some education in the schools and other organizations although their reach is severely limited in that they spend a great deal of time treating patients and they don't have the time or resources to dedicate to organizing charlas. I have the social connections I told him. I have drank coffee and talked about the weather in pastel colored cement buildings all over this city. The theory is that all service workers that work with the affected populations are working in HIV/AIDS, they just don't realize it. It's up to us to tell them, I said. He agreed. Well, he said, Where would we get the money?

We had no budget. It was made pretty clear that there would be no financial support from the hospital or any other social institution. (Speaks volumes doesn't it?) Our biggest expense would be the food, and there has GOT to be food. Whoever said, "There's no such thing as a free lunch" has never been to a tico taller. Not only is there a free lunch, you also get two cafécitos. "If you feed them, they will come." I decided I would write a PCPP and try to get the funding for the food. That would leave the facilities, all resources etc. up to the community to provide. My hospital counterpart had a contact at the Rotary Club and he thought he would be able to get the building donated, the clinic staff would be giving most of the presentations so that would not be a cost and the rest we would hunt and gather. We had a plan, we were good to go. We were on it. First things first let's pick a date. It is such a simple thing, you look at a calendar, you chose a day, you write it down, then you get to work.

We changed the date 3 billion times between November and April; the space wasn't available that day, he scheduled it during his vacation, then the doctor wasn't available, then the "donated" space became a "discounted" space and we were back at square one. This called from drastic measures. Fortunately, while researching "stress management techniques" and greater "community integration" on the Paseo de Turistas I met the brand, spanking new gringo owner of a bar/restaurant and ended up talking him into donating the upstairs of his building, and he would work within our budget for the food. Rockin'! Now I have a space, AND the irony of giving an HIV taller in a bar was really just too good to pass up. The good news; things are coming together. The bad news; it's becoming increasingly clear that this is my baby and very little help is coming from my "counterpart." I decide I am just going to have to live with that. It's not that they don't care or even that they don't want to do anything, it's that working on big problems with few resources tends to breed what looks like apathy, but is really just hopelessness and resignation.

The "S" word (sustainability) keeps popping up in my head. If I'm the only one invested in this, it's not sustainable. "One good thing," I think. "If I can just do one good thing during my service. I'll be happy." I had it in the back of my mind, but I hardly dared to whisper it. I wanted to create a Red de Prevención. There are a ton of HIV resources out there, but there is not any one organized entity in Puntarenas that is working on getting them there. It's a pipe dream, I know. But, I thought that if we could just get people together; the people that are already out there working in the most affected populations. If we could just get them to be aware of it. If we could get them to start talking about it, even in the smallest way, then that would be something. That would be my seed.

The week before the taller, the date was finalized (for real this time). We cranked out some invitations, I took half and my counterpart took half. I hit the streets. I walked all over Puntarenas with a stack of invitations and a sweat rag. I was running about half and half of those that said they would be able to go, and knew that probably about half of the ones that said they would make it wouldn't actually come. I spent the rest of the week typing up the agenda, pre and post tests, evaluations and surveys that would be the measurements and accountability portion of my project. My counterpart was working on getting us some folders donated.

Monday morning, the day before the taller, I got to the hospital to go over final stuff with my counterpart. He, the doctor and the psychologist are scheduled to present in the morning. I booked an amazing woman from Associacion Americas to come from San Jose to present in the afternoon. I got to the clinic Monday morning, the day before the taller and my counterpart has come through with the folders. Yipee! Then the psychologist walks in and I ask her if she is ready for the big day and she says, "yeah, I don't think I'm gonna make it. I think I am gonna be 'incapacitada"(sick) tomorrow." So I did what any mature professional would do... I told on her. My counterpart told her she had to go or at least had to find someone to stand in for her if she couldn't go. I confirmed the Associacion Americas woman that afternoon. I had all the speakers lined up with one exception, me. But I still had a good ten hours to get that together.

The morning of the taller I show a the restaurant at 8 am. The taller was scheduled to run 8-4, so needless to say, I was early. There were two minor (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!) catastrophes first thing. The new owners changed the name of the restaurant recently and had bought a new sign. The name I put on the invitations was in little-bitty print on the new sign. I had also mistakenly written "Oeste"(West) on the invitations instead of "Este"(East). I was on the verge of a breakdown. Was it all really going to fall apart due to one little extra 'O'? One little 'O', as in "Oh f*@#, everybody's lost." My ever so generous machito compañero helped me out, signs were made people came. Not a lot of people, but people none-the-less. I ended up with 11 professionals and 6 PCVs.

All in all, things went pretty okay. The presenters presented. The food was good. The service was good. People participated. The Associacion Americas presentation was incredible and impactful. It still had it's idiosyncrasies of course. It was Puntarenas HOT. The doctor sweat through his scrubs during his presentation. Don Flaco; so named because he is amazing emaciated (I think that taller provisions are his sole source of nourishment); still managed to bring up the evils of traigamonedas. The afternoon presenter was an hour late and my counterpart left after lunch. But then people started talking about the future. Shirley, this incredibly powerful and compassionate woman, starts talking about planning another taller for her coworkers and for MEP and IMAS. The women from the schools ask about scheduling the doctor to present at their school. And then it happens, the heavens open, a man from the Minesterio de Salud (Health Ministry) says it; "I am going to work on putting to together a commission to work on HIV prevention in Puntarenas."

I don't dare get my hopes up. There is excitement, there is energy, there are promises and sometimes they don't make it out of the building. When I leave here in September, the HIV infection rate will still be high. The social workers and psychologists will still be over worked and overwhelmed. Vital programs will still be under-funded. Important information will not be distributed because it is uncomfortable to talk about. The impact of the taller will fade. But maybe, just maybe, one small good thing remains.


Anonymous said...

A standing ovation from Fort Collins to you mi amiga!! You have planted a seed and hopefully it will grow! And as a side note, have you ever thought of writing professionally? I couldn't take my eyes off it!!! Love you! Keep up the good work... you're changing the world to be a better place!


Anonymous said...

You're amazing! You can be sooooo proud of yourself! What an accomplishment... That little mustard seed is sprouting already... sometimes the real result isn't readily apparent, but you are making a difference. Puntarenas will miss you and your dedication when your tour is up. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Carolina, great writing! I was thoroughly swept up with the action and anticipation. And kudos to you for hanging in there. Whatever happens or doesn't happen you did what you could, and more than what most people would do. :)

Christine said...


Congrats! The work is hard, but it's amazing when it starts to fall into place.

Joining you in CR in June