This is JASL. Rather, it’s the building currently housing JASL. JASL (Jamaica AIDS Support for Life) is the oldest and largest organization in the Caribbean dedicated to providing support services to people affected with and by HIV. I say “affected BY HIV” because we need to remember that HIV not only affects those who have tested positive, but also the people in their lives.
JASL provides an atmosphere free of discrimination. As you know, there is a lot of stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. It’s commonly referred to as “the gay disease”. For those who are unaware, homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica. Public displays of affection between men are grounds for a serious beating. This is not only restricted to people on the street. The police in this country also have blood on their hands. It is not a safe place to be gay, so you can imagine all of the discrimination one is likely to face when going in to a clinic to be tested for HIV. One of JASL’s main objectives is to provide a comfortable atmosphere where anyone can be tested, regardless of their personal history.
JASL also have interventions where they go to the places that they know homosexuals hang out, or where they know there are a lot of drug users and sex workers. These places provide the perfect atmosphere to spread HIV. On these interventions, the people at JASL hand out condoms and simply let these vulnerable persons know that there is a safe place to be tested. There are so many services offered in addition testing, such as support groups for people living with HIV as well as for the families of people who have tested positive.
The people at JASL are great. They work hard, and sometimes on a Monday morning during team briefing you can see how this work wears them down. But by the end of team briefing, no matter how stressed they may be, they are always looking forward to the week. They always see light at the end of the tunnel. They pray for the strength to carry on. The people at JASL are dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV.
With the Global Fund running out, JASL and many other AIDS organizations are facing the biggest challenge to date. Where will they receive funding to continue operations? See the link for more information regarding the Global Fund and their commitment to Jamaican AIDS organizations ( http://portfolio.theglobalfund.org/en/Country/Index/JAM ). No financial support means that people currently receiving treatment will no longer be able to. No financial support means that newly infected people will never be able to receive treatment. During a recent protest, one of the signs read “LIFE EXISTS AFTER THE GLOBAL FUND”. To me, this means that life will continue, and people will continue to put themselves at risk for HIV. The disease will continue to spread, and people will continue to die.
JASL has a plan to help bridge the gap between funding and operations. They have a business called Life’s Work, dedicated to providing funds to help people who have tested positive. Life’s Work is a business under the JASL umbrella that creates hand made gift cards and hand made candles. My job within the organization (while only temporary) is to help relaunch this business after a long struggle. I am helping bring structure and balance, and ultimately success to this company. We have been working towards relaunching this business with newly designed labels, packaging and a catalog. We are re-branding this product and expanding the market to target key areas such as resorts and hotels, cruise ships, spas, gift shops, churches…where ever we can sell. Please check out their website for more information (www.jasforlife.org). All funds will go towards providing services to those affected by HIV.
JASL also works closely with other organization who provide services to other “vulnerable persons”, such as people forced to live in the streets. There is a gully in Kingston that houses many drug users, sex workers. and others infected with HIV. Many of these people are women. Last week, the police destroyed their simple homes, took what little they had away in trucks and forced them to leave. Where did they go? Where could they go? I visited the site, known as “the Gulf” and was blown away by the living conditions. The attached photos were taken after the protest. I wanted to mention this because the battle against HIV and AIDS must be fought alongside the authorities and governments in this country…they should not be one of many obstacles along the way. The attitude towards these vulnerable persons was clear when they were referred to by police as “the undesirables”. But they are people, and they are entitled to some dignity.
This blog has tuned out to be longer than intended…but it has been a while since my last entry. I guess I had a lot to say. I can feel the frustrations that the people I work with face every day. I like these people…I don’t want to see them stressed. More so, I want proper services for people in need. I want to eliminate the discrimination against homosexuals, drug users, sex workers, and those infected with HIV.
Life’s Work is everybody’s business. I leave you with a quote you may have heard before:
“If you judge people you have no time to love them”. ~ Mother Teresa