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Coming Out Of Isolation

Summer '94

It's been a year since Being Alive started a women's monthly social and Bar-B-Q for Women with HIV and AIDS. From the beginning of the program's inception Women members of Being Alive have been successful at building bridges with other AIDS agencies that also provide services to women. We have worked closely with Shanti's "Women for Positive Living," Women At Risk, and others. Prototypes Women's Center has been very committed, ensuring that women in their drug recovery program who are affected by AIDS regularly attend the event. These women have become an integral and important part of the social support program.

The "Women Alive" program has been successful for several reasons, but mainly because it is by and for women with HIV infection. The attendance varies from about 25 to 40 women and children in any given month. The women who attend the social, have fortunately taken ownership of this event. They see this as their time to be together and support each other in good times and in difficult times. Of course, social support is open-ended, allowing women to attend intermittently if they choose.

We hold a rap group in the middle of the afternoon, to deal with the more pressing issues that need to be addressed and resolved. The group is exclusively for women with HIV infection and AIDS, and is peer facilitated (lead by a woman who actually has HIV herself). In the beginning, the majority of the women who attended were uninformed about treatment issues and basic information in regards to HIV. Now, I listen to women who share with each other the latest and upcoming treatments. We are also learning to make informed decisions, becoming actively involved in negotiating our treatment strategies with our care providers. In addition, we have become aware of where to access available services. This exchange of information will assist women in living longer with a better quality of life. Many times, women with AIDS don't have the opportunity to share information that may be of benefit to another person who is dealing with this virus.

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One of the more moving experiences for me has been the ability to witness and participate in the growth of the community which I am a part of. It isn't a gradual growth at this point, it's happening in leaps and bounds in several areas. Women with HIV and AIDS are reclaiming their self worth. The simple fact that we feel comfortable enough to share our thoughts with other women is growth for us. It takes a lot of guts for many women to open up and Women Alive is not lacking in this area. Of course, no one is required to share. Women who just want to listen should feel welcome and comfortable. When I see a woman living with HIV share her life experiences with another woman who is struggling through a difficult time, I see the power of peer support. One cannot help but feel moved and inspired by this incredible experience.

Women Alive would like you to know that you don't have to fight this disease alone! No matter who we are or where we came from, we have something to offer each other!

As PROTOTYPES Women's Center is committed to this program, I would like to see other recovery programs follow in the steps of PWC by allowing their HIV positive women clients to take part in Women Alive. The physical and emotional benefits are monumental for women who are in drug recovery programs. This is support at it's best; developing coping abilities, emphasizing our strengths, maintaining hope, and showing continued sincere concern for each other.

For women, providing support in a social setting seems to work better than the traditional mainstream groups designed by men. Women who have just received a diagnosis of AIDS or HIV, may find traditional support groups too intimidating or may perceive it as a frightening experience. We find, the more informal social setting, especially at first, provides a nurturing environment needed for the women to resist the tendency to remain alone and isolated.

I personally look forward to the first Sunday of each month, because I know once again, that I get to experience the true meaning of women empowering women. No woman with HIV or AIDS should have to miss out on such an experience. We always have plenty of food, beverages, and a few good laughs at our socials/Bar-B-Q's.

Children are an important part of our lives, and are included in some of the activities. Women are welcome to bring their children. We try to have a volunteer baby-sitter on site. This is not the ideal situation to give the mom's a break from the kids. Sometimes, the children's needs interfere with mom's social time. We are currently working on developing a play area for the kids at the same location but away from the main event. This way the moms can enjoy the social and feel secure that their children are being attended to.

There are a few other things that could help in the continuation of this important program. It would be a tremendous help if you have a friend or a family member who would be willing to volunteer a few hours a month to help out with cooking, setting up the rooms, or coming to keep an eye on the kids. All supplies are budgeted so there is no cost to women with HIV/AIDS. However, donations of any amount are encouraged and welcomed. We could also use donations of toys, clothing, and food.


Drop by at 3626 Sunset the first Sunday of each month between 11:30 and 2:00. Join in the fun! It's for women, and it's free.




  
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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
 

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