Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Entering gang territory trumps printer ink

The contrast between a wealthy neighboorhood and a poor one, in my community of Santa Rosa de Copan

Here at work, truck and meeting room sign-out is a mystery that, in my opinion, could be solved with Outlook calendars.  Also, sometimes, there's no ink for the printer and one has to scramble for budget to get the money to print stuff, months after you discovered there was no ink.   Furthermore, the culture is such that when they give feedback, people almost NEVER say anything about what they think is unnecessarily beaurocratic or complicated.  They will just say it's all in the hands of God (or the Boss, who is often a close proxy).  This all goes against the Learning Org principles I learned back in Canada in my cushy government job.

But really, this blog post is not about my petty concerns about truck sign-out and printer ink.  Last week we had a staff retreat where we had a chance to get to know eachother, learn some stress management techniques, and share about our work.  My colleagues blew me away with the kinds of work they do, under extremely stressful and risky situations.

I never knew about or understood the AIDS/HIV education and support that three of my ASONOG colleagues give to vulnerable people in urban slums of San Pedro Sula. It was touching and heart wrenching.  While I'm shaking my fist about not having a truck to get to a meeting about raising chickens, my colleagues are organizing workshops for families who are living with AIDS/HIV in slum-like conditions, three-hours away from their own homes and families.  For less than $5/person, they travel to the site, rent the venue, organize the meals, provide the materials and connect with people who have very little support for their very serious condition.

First however, they have to go door to door in the slums and seek participants for these workshops.  Confidentiality is a top priority.  Many people are reluctant to get involved because they will be associated with the disease.  Some wives are HIV positive and haven't told their husbands.  Some husbands are HIV positive and haven't told their wives. Many children are positive, and their parents ensure they adhere to their daily doses of anti-viral medications, and the children don't know why they are taking this medicine, daily.

They contrasted urban poverty with rural poverty.  It's a whole different ball game in the cities. The risks of entering some of these communities are very real.  In one community, my Honduran ASONOG colleagues had to know the protocol of entering the neighbourhood with the truck headlights on.  If they had not known this, they would have been sending a very wrong signal in gang territory.  Nuances.  Many of the gang members' families live in these poor neighbourhoods.  It is not work for the faint of heart.

My colleagues spoke of the risks and the stress of their work, but also about how satisfying it is to support these people of greatest need. They frequently travel away from Santa Rosa de Copan to the large urban centre of San Pedro Sula for days or weeks at a time, lliving in a cheap hotel and eating at low-budget restaruants.  They spoke of how some of their interview questions can be extremely sensitive, because when there is not a scrap of food in the hovel, where the toilet sits in the middle of the kitchen, they have to ask, "How many times a week does your child receive: milk, fruits and vegetables, meat...?".  So hard.    They spoke of one workshop they put on for the children.  They brought milk and cornflakes for a snack.  The kids all lit up.  They had never had milk and cornflakes before, and it was a huge treat.

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