Rodney Bien-Aime and Shelda Meryse sometimes begin their journey before sunrise to avoid the heat of the tropical Haitian sun.
A peer educator teaches youth through the Red Cross program Together We Can.
Credit: Haitian Red Cross.
The two youth volunteers walk up to an hour to teach their peers basic health information. In a region with a high HIV infection rate, and in a country in which many believe HIV is spread by voodoo, their work is that important.
“A lot of girls were becoming pregnant [through unsafe sex] and I wanted to help,” says 21-year-old Shelda. “I saw an opportunity to use my facilitation skills.”
Haitian Red Cross peer educators are on the front line of the Together We Can program, which aims to reduce the incidence of HIV through peer-to-peer education of youth ages 10-24. The program is funded through USAID and supported by the American Red Cross.
A Needed Resource
Together We Can offers a structured curriculum to change existing health knowledge, practices and perceptions.
Each class connects two peer educators with no more than twenty youth. They meet four times, usually on weekends, and discuss a variety of issues like reproductive health, HIV transmission and prevention and the stigmatization of those with HIV/AIDS. Students have homework assignments that ensure that they understand the material.
In a unique twist, they also have homework assignments to pass onto their peers after each class. This way, important health information reaches as many people in the community as possible.
Rodney explains that when he first “gave information to youth, they didn’t know anything about HIV, or how to protect themselves.”
What’s more, while youth had access to condoms, they did not trust them. Without proper training, local youth had been using them incorrectly and unsuccessfully.
“Now kids know how to use the condom properly,” Rodney says.
A Lasting Impact
Field manager Jackson Camilien Victor points out that there are challenges the program faces. There are only twenty active peer educators. The amount of travel is not easy, even for committed volunteers like Shelda and Rodney.
However, with correct knowledge in place, program volunteers are seeing a multiplier effect ripple through the community. Youth express positive opinions and correct information to their friends.
Bolstered by these results, both Rodney and Sheila plan to stay involved with the program as long as they can.
The need remains in their communities for basic health information.
Learn about other HIV/AIDS programs through the American Red Cross.
You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.