June 17, 2011
John Chittick and a group of volunteers from his Norfolk-based nonprofit, TeenAIDS-Peercorps, recently visited Hispaniola to talk about healthy sexual behaviors. In Haiti, Port-au-Prince locals warned Chittick not to visit Cité Soleil, a poor area they said is violent and crime-ridden. At least once during the trip, the HIV prevention message was seen as too sensitive to broach with youths.
"Sex is normal and it's natural, but it's the consequences you have to understand," said Chittick. A Harvard alumnus who teaches management at Cambridge College in Chesapeake, Chittick does similar outreach in Hampton Roads. He took his group to Hispaniola because three-quarters of new HIV/AIDS cases in the Caribbean occur in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, according to the US Agency for International Development.
The TeenAIDS-Peercorps groups approach teens on streets, at markets, in parks and at school. "I have information that will save your best friend's life. Do you want to hear it?" Chittick asks them. Business cards, printed in multiple languages, include AIDS facts and the group's contact information.
At one Dominican Republic school, a security guard tried to get the group to leave when he heard their topic. In Guachupita, several women advised youths not to listen to the group. Other cultural differences were more subtle.
"The conversation with kids is what we try to do; it's not about preaching to them," said Samantha Monkman, 23, a volunteer. "We took thousands of business cards and came back with none."