United Methodist Committee on Relief

Helping Youth Avoid HIV/AIDS in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, prevention of HIV and AIDS in San Francisco Libre, a project funded by UMCOR, has opened a door to youth who want to learn more about the disease and share their knowledge with others.In Nicaragua, prevention of HIV and AIDS in San Francisco Libre, a project funded by UMCOR, has opened a door to youth who want to learn more about the disease and share their knowledge with others.

By Elder Garcia*

November 21, 2013—According to the Ministry of Health, more than 7,000 people live with HIV in Nicaragua, a Central American nation of about six million people. Nicaragua has the lowest per capita level of people living with HIV in the region. Nevertheless, nongovernmental organizations that work to prevent the illness here believe the number is only an estimate and that the real number of those living with HIV is nearer to 10,000.

Youth and adolescents are the most vulnerable to infection. Those between the ages of 14 and 30 are more likely to have unprotected sexual relations; they tend to lack accurate information about the virus, especially about prevention; and they also lack sufficient space to reflect on their questions with persons who can help them make responsible decisions.

There is still a great deal of stigma associated with the virus here. The attitude about HIV is very similar to what the attitude to leprosy was in Jesus’ time. There was prejudice against those with leprosy, but Jesus, with his love and openness, helped break that barrier.

Discrimination and the lack of good information are especially acute in impoverished, rural areas such as San Francisco Libre. Here, Women and Community (W&C), an ecumenical association, develops programs to help women, youth, and children live lives of abundance. By that they mean healthy lives free of violence and filled with personal development and with equality in their relationships, families, and communities.

San Francisco Libre is a large municipality composed of thirty-five villages. It is dominated by a patriarchal culture, where often men still think of women and children as personal property. There is a high level of domestic violence and a low level of gender equity and of respect for the rights of women and children. Men often are unfaithful and don’t want to use condoms. Their wives tend to be the unsuspecting recipients of sexually transmitted illnesses such as HIV. Because couples often form at very young ages, the affected population includes youth as young as 14.

Often, a very traditional religious upbringing has served to deepen many of these cultural norms and prejudices. Many people still think of HIV as a punishment from God. Some consider any kind of sex education or education about human rights to be an abomination, a sin, a taboo. They unwittingly increase their children’s vulnerability to adding to the national statistics of people living with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

The Women and Community Association, a Global Ministries partner where two missionaries, Miguel Mairena and Nan McCurdy, are assigned, has had a significant influence since 1997 in improving gender relations, gender equity, the defense of human rights, and the reduction of violence against women, youth, and children here.

I have participated in W&C’s Youth Leadership Development Program, specifically in the Youth Network against Violence, since 2008. The Youth Network is helping W&C implement a project called “Prevention of HIV/AIDS in San Francisco Libre,” which is funded by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF). This project has opened a door to youth who want to know more about HIV and AIDs and who want to share their knowledge with other young people. We hope this project will become a fundamental building block in the life of our youth.

It began in September with the training of 43 members of the Youth Network, including 15 young men and 28 young women from 23 villages. They showed great interest in and commitment to learning everything they could to promote the prevention of HIV among the young people of the municipality.

The youth then multiplied the training, bringing it to 225 teenagers in 18 villages over the course of a month. The peer-to-peer workshop approach was essential to the learning experience, as the youth could talk, reflect, and raise questions openly with each other. Some of them mentioned the angry responses they get from parents when they ask questions related to sexual health. We have to recognize that these responses by parents are the result of how they were treated by their own parents and society as a whole when they were young.

In the workshop evaluations, participants said that their questions and doubts about HIV and AIDS, including the origins, transmission, and prevention of the virus, had been answered. They also reflected on the stigma attached to people who live with it, and how they might want to be treated if they had HIV. They committed themselves to promote HIV prevention and to end discrimination against people who live with HIV.

One young man said, “This information will help us make serious and responsible decisions when the time comes in our lives to have sexual relations.”

This project will finish in August 2014, but before it does, there will be more training, an interchange with other youth, a Youth Festival with an HIV/AIDS prevention theme, and the production of a short video to teach more youth.

Your support in the fight against HIV and AIDS makes a difference. Please give to United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345. In 2014, UMGAF will concentrate its efforts on supporting projects and ministries around the globe that focus on the vital task of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS. Your support is urgently needed.

For information about UMGAF resources to help your congregation develop an HIV/AIDS ministry click here.

And thank you for your support for UMCOR Global Health, Advance #3021770.

*Elder Garcia is coordinator of the Youth Network against Violence, a program of the Women and Community Association in San Francisco Libre, Nicaragua. He is a W&C scholarship student studying journalism.

If you support this project on Giving Tuesday, December 3, Global Ministries will allocate the “matching funds” dollar for dollar up to the first $500,000 in gifts to Advance projects received online on December 3, 2013, between 12:00 a.m. EST and 11:59 p.m. A maximum of $10,000 per individual gift to a project will be dispersed as matching funds. A project may receive a maximum of $50,000 in matching funds.

Thank you for your support for UMCOR Global Health, Advance #3021770

A Look at HIV & AIDS: Latino and Hispanic Perspectives from Global Ministries on Vimeo.