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Reged: 03/29/11
Posts: 3
International Service for People Living with HIV
      03/29/11 10:49 AM

On March first I launched Volunteer Positive, the first international volunteer service organization for people living with HIV. I will be taking HIV affected and infected people to serve internationally and connecting them with parallel HIV affected communities abroad. Our first service program will take place in January 2012 in Thailand, and I plan to expand to other locations as we grow. This organization has been a labor of love and a demonstration of my own value and agency as a person living with HIV. It is a huge risk for me personally, professionally, and financially, but I am driven by the work and my vision. This project creates a counter narrative to what dominates the discussion of HIV in the media and in HIV affected communities. It feels good to be creating a new trajectory for survivors while simultaneously confronting stigma and building the self esteem of myself and of others.

As I work to make this dream into a sustainable reality I am trying to find support where possible. If you would be kind enough to share my story and my history making NGO's mission with those who might find encouragement I would be very grateful. If you have any advice for me or words of wisdom, I am open to listen.

My Story: The Founding of Volunteer Positive

I found out I was HIV positive weeks before traveling from New York to South Africa to manage a human rights program in 2005. It was surreal to go from managing an academic program in one part of Cape Town to participating in a HIV support group across town where I was the only foreigner. I was not taking HIV medication at that time, so my sense of being limited by HIV laws for travelers was not fully engaged. Now that I do take medication, I am painfully aware of my potential vulnerability to border guards and immigration officials and to HIV travel bans and criminalization efforts. I also realize that I have also become vulnerable to the obstacles of misinformation, stigma, ignorance, and marginalization from my own professional and social community here in the US and abroad.

I have worked in international education, international service, and human rights for more than 25 years. The absence of visible HIV+ people in the field of international volunteer service and education has been deeply troubling to me and informed by my own experiences being discouraged, overtly ignored, or blocked by some service NGO's and government agencies. The judgment against the Peace Corps by the ACLU for HIV discrimination exemplifies the tone and position that some service organizations have historically taken toward volunteers living with HIV. I believe it is time to confront stigma through soft diplomacy and international volunteer service by presenting an alternative image of HIV+ people as empowered care givers not vulnerable, dependent care receivers. In the spirit of the UNAIDS GIPA Principle (Greater Involvement of People with AIDS), I have launched Volunteer Positive. Volunteer Positive is the first international volunteer service organization for people infected and affected by HIV.

What we are doing is daring, not only in the field of international service, but for those living with HIV. I am hoping that Volunteer Positive will increase the chance for people living with HIV to contribute to the world because of their HIV experiences, not in spite of them. Volunteer Positive has been recognized by Mobility International as the first of its kind, and as a resource to other NGO’s who need support to rethink, reshape and update their HIV inclusion polices and attitudes.
Emotionally, there is a sense of risk for those of us who have been effectively quarantined even after our health has stabilized. Professionally, there is a perception that volunteers living with HIV are too difficult to support in the field. I challenge this assumption. During the past many years, I have traveled to various parts of the globe and have seen firsthand the devastating effects HIV has had on many different kinds of people in many diverse communities, and I have done it as an HIV positive person. I am strong, healthy, and viable, and so are an increasing number of my fellow survivors.

The need for HIV positive people to reconnect to our individual and global futures is great, and finding a way to do this which inspires others, builds a community of care in action, and helps define the path of the next wave of survivors is important to our civic, national, intellectual and spiritual identities. Volunteer Positive signifies a progression in the global consciousness of HIV+ people stressing the visibility, agency, and the self worth of each member of our community.

Finally, I could not have made it to this point in my life professionally or personally without the support of some very remarkable people. It is not surprising that some people on Volunteer Positive’s board of advisers and directors have been part of the HIV affected and infected community. These friends and colleagues have been instrumental in the formation and launch of this project and each has lived their lives and confronted challenges with authenticity and action. Each one speaks truth to power, honors the contributions of diversity, and does the hard work of championing proactive social inclusion. I never thought I would eventually be an HIV positive international activist surviving the greatest plague in recent history and launching my own NGO. It is impossible to know how your life will unfold, but it is possible to intentionally build a community around you to support it as it does.

Come along with us. The world is waiting.

Edited by clr100 (05/25/11 12:31 PM)

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