HIV Prevention in Latino Faith Communities: Counting Big Wins in an Uphill Battle
Q & A With Nathaly Rubio-Torio, Executive Director of Voces Latinas
October 17, 2011
Is it more a lack of capacity or time that keeps churches from becoming involved? Or is it more faith-based reasons, such as that people shouldn't be talking about their private business, or about sex?
I think it's a mix of both. Even in churches that have completed the whole cycle of the partnership, we've heard back that some of the pastors aren't completely comfortable with the HIV prevention work the promotoras do in our organization. Because when you talk about HIV, you have to talk about sex.
I think they're experiencing some stigma. The pastors get confused. I think they want to do this work. They recognize that it's important. But they're unsure: Is it really their role as a pastor to talk about these issues? I can see there's a dilemma they're going through. That gets communicated over to the promotora, and her dilemma starts. We've been having conversations with our promotoras about the differences between their role in their church and their role as peer educators: This is about educating. Luckily, we haven't lost any promotoras as a result of this, or any pastors ... knock on wood.
In one of our last HIV testing campaigns, where we go out and table, we partnered with one of the churches. So it was us, table to table with a church, giving HIV information and condoms. I have a picture. I had to take pictures, because it was the first time that you could see an HIV prevention organization and a church together in our community.
When we go to different conferences and meetings, it's great when you have somebody from the clergy, or somebody from a faith-based organization, at the table. It's an area that HIV providers are starting to reach, and it's been going on for a while. But certain communities are a little more closed, more conservative, more traditional.
Say another organization wanted to start working with these smaller local churches in Latino communities, and sought your counsel. How would you advise them to begin reaching out? What would you want them to keep in mind?
Look at who you're serving first. The very people that we're serving belong to churches. Those are our allies. They're coming to our organization for a reason. They believe in our mission. They believe in what we're doing. They're probably getting a lot of help and services from our organization. So talk to them. Get their buy-in first, so they can then open that door and make that introduction to their pastors, or to their churches.
It's not always going to happen. They can't decide for that pastor. But that's where we need to be very patient and understanding. We can't get angry. We can't get frustrated. Like I said, we go to 10 churches in order to recruit one or two. That could get very tiresome. But don't get discouraged. Getting that one or two is a huge step.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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