He Walks the World, Talks AIDS With Teens
November 7, 2008
Fitchburg native John Chittick, 60, has been talking with teens on the street about HIV/AIDS for more than a decade, a mission he has taken international in his travels to 80 countries. For his efforts, the founder of nonprofit TeenAIDS-PeerCorps has also been arrested in Cuba, detained in Kenya, and had his cards confiscated in China.
"A lot of cultures don't want you on the streets talking about sex with kids," said Chittick. "That's what I do."
In the mid-1990s, Chittick decided he would leave lecturing at the Harvard School of Public Health in order to educate youths. He estimates he has reached 300,000 kids on the streets, and in two weeks he hopes to educate more on his month-long trip to Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola.
TeenAIDS-PeerCorps operates from Chittick's childhood home in Fitchburg on a meager budget and is kept afloat through private donations. He eschews government funds, saying he does not "want any strings attached," mentioning the federal abstinence policy specifically.
Chittick usually hands the teens a business card with local-language information about HIV. "This info here could possibly save your best friend's life," he says through an interpreter. "Do you want to hear it?"
"He gets teens to really respond by treating them in an intelligent manner," said Barry Ansin, founder of Common Sensitivity, a Massachusetts HIV/AIDS education group. "He gives them the facts and allows them to make their decisions."
"I am certain that I'm saving lives, and I'm enabling kids to do the same," Chittick said. "Every time I leave a kid, I look them in the eye and say: 'You're now a teacher. You have the ability to save lives. Go out and do it.'"
11.03.2008; Billy Baker