As an intern with FSD, I have been given the opportunity to write a grant for the funds necessary to implement a project of my choosing at the clinic in which I am working...the following describes the project for which I recently wrote AND won my grant...I will be implementing this project throughout the duration of my time here in La Plata.
If a picture is indeed worth a-thousand words, the city of La Plata is in for one hell of a story. Argentina is a country of rich history, and with a past wriddled with political instability and military dictatorship, a generation of disappeared people, and the more recent economic crisis of 2001, its people have something to say. The patients who walk through the discrete, frosted glass door of the Centro de Referencia de VIH/SIDA, where I have been working for 7 weeks now, have an exceptional story...the socio-cultural forces weighing down on them have manifested themselves in a betrayal that runs much deeper than corrput political ideology; theirs is a betrayal of their own blood cells. For many, HIV is one more obstacle which thwarts their abiity to survive in a developing country. In the midst of poverty, unemployment, and malnourishment, these incredible people attempt to live with HIV...but are they truly living? The government provides the resources for their sustinance...throwing them further and further into a dark pit filled with excuses, complaicance, and lack of responsibility...but simple sustinance doesn't provide a life.
Over the past 7 weeks I have seen first-hand not only the fear of discrimination for a positive HIV status, but also the reality of this fear. It's everywhere. I see it in the patients' eyes when they describe that they have recently been fired simply because their boss suspected that there was infection nearby...sometimes in the partner of the employee. I hear it in the interviews that I am holding with patients to better know their needs...they speak of the fear that they live with, for if anyone found out that they were positive, they would be treated poorly. Sometimes their own family members-- flesh and blood-- don't even know. And I feel it too. I feel it in the air when I tell someone where I work. When the letters even leave my lips-- HIV-- I see the confused look come across their faces...the palpable level of discomfort is incredible. Do I have HIV, they ask. Could they really be talking to someone with HIV? What if they catch it through the air that we're sharing? For this reason I no longer give a general answer when one asks what I'm doing here...I now tell them exactly which clinic I am working in. The conversation around the illness ravaging their city has to start somewhere...why not with an American boy who's leaving in 3 months?
In an effort to affect this lack of understanding, while also empowering the patients, I have written a grant to implement A Través de Nuestros Ojos: a Photovoice pilot program for the patients at La Salita. Based on the Photovoice Method (which I urge each of you to read about- www.photovoice.com/org) this project will allow patients to explore what living with HIV/AIDS in La Plata means to them through photography. I will be giving approximately 5-8 patients cameras and asking them to explore this construct over a one-week period, after which we will reflect on their experiences and discuss photos which they choose to share. Through this phase, it is hoped that the patients will truly uncover both positive and negative aspects of their lives as HIV-positive persons. For many, they lack the tools to see themselves as the subject, rather than an object, in their lives...and I hope that this project will aid in the development of the tools to do such as they view their world from a fresh perspective given by the small lens of a camera. The second part of the project will serve to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among the general population of La Plata through a public exposition in the premier cultural center of the city- El Pasaje Dardo Rocha. During the week of 23-28 September, the participating patients' photography (of which they elect to show) will be on exhibition for the general public.
Although we live in a world saturated with visual images, the true meaning of photos is often lost...the subject all too easily becomes an object in a world far from the one which we know. I hope that this project reunites both the photographer and the viewer with the reality of HIV which surrounds them in La Plata, regardless of infection status.