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L.A. Women Have a New Weapon to Fight HIV
It's Called Knowledge

By Cathy Olufs

Summer 2001

Graduates from Women Alive's second annual HIV University Los Angeles (affectionately known as HULA) took to the streets on June 16th with a better understanding of the tools they can use to manage HIV in their lives. This year's graduates completed a ten-week long intensive educational program that not only increased their knowledge about HIV, but also helped them develop a strong and mutually nurturing support network.

The unique curriculum that was developed by the graduates themselves covered topics ranging from basic human biology (how does the immune system function?) to self-esteem (how to cope with the disease on a daily basis). The HIV University Program originally developed by the women at WORLD in Oakland, California, has been replicated in many cities across the country. Women Alive Treatment Advocates Cathy Olufs and Marina Gomez attended the 1999 national training held in San Francisco and learned the necessary skills to reproduce the program here in Los Angeles. So far, the HIV U. curriculum has been extremely popular, with both English and Spanish versions available for women in Los Angeles.

Last year the English program had 25 HIV-positive women participate. Of those 25 participants, 19 received a diploma. This year's English program had seven graduates who wore the traditional cap and gown during an intimate and touching ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown LA. The beautiful Polaris Room, with its 360 degree views of the city below, was a perfect setting for the event. The graduates were joined by family, friends, and former HIV U. graduates for an evening of triumph and tears. Special guest speaker for the evening was Dr. Judith Currier of UCLA's CARE Center, who is also a continuing HIV U. instructor. Former HIV U. graduates Judith Dillard (now an employee at Women Alive) and Lucy Diaz (now a Women Alive Board Member) addressed the graduating class, and gave personal testimony as to the impact that the program has had on their lives.

This year's Dean of Students, Patsy Lawson, spoke to the group candidly about what she has learned, and how she will use the information to advocate for herself and others. In addition to a diploma, each graduate received a bouquet of flowers and a gift bag stuffed with goodies. The graduates and their families and friends capped the event off with cake and dancing into the night.

Women Alive is proud of our HIV University program, and grateful to the women at WORLD for sharing the idea with us. We are also grateful for all the people and sponsors who help make each graduation such a memorable event.

Each graduating class is different from the one before it, and the women who come to HIV U. have varied experiences to share with each other. It is always touching to watch the bonds of friendship grow among the women. As they struggle to come to terms with the disease and to educate themselves, it's comforting for many to know that there are others whom they can turn to when times get tough.

It makes us especially happy at Women Alive to know that we are helping women to take a pro-active stand in their own healthcare by increasing the numbers of women who are educated about this disease.


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