Office life in Antigua

In my last post, I explained a daunting issue regarding the reluctance of MSM to access testing and further, the lack of harmonized testing data and reporting to the government. The issues of reporting inform how everything else functions (government programs, incentive for donors to fund national AIDS programs, etc) and this trickles down to organizations such as ARC. Despite these issues, ARC continues to send people for testing/VCT because testing remains a cornerstone of effective prevention. With regards to a communicable disease, it’s more efficient to implement interventions that will help prevent transmission (or in dire terms, save lives) such as encouraging testing, than to work through tightly bound bureaucratic tape. However, currently ARC is developing a long-term advocacy strategy that will empower MSM to advocate for these sorts of socio-political changes.

In the meantime, I’ve worked on several projects while doing fundraising research. Since ARC is volunteer operated and our acting Executive Director and the Board of Directors all have full time jobs, the resources I’m creating are hopefully going to save the organization time. More importantly, I’ve created templates, discussed the progress of projects at board meetings, and made sure the work I’ll be leaving behind is sustainable, scalable and independent of my placement. Fortunately, these are both projects that ARC has needed finishing and tasks that I’ve been particularly interested in because they’ve covered a range of responsibilities related to organizational management, advocacy program development, financial analysis and outreach.

So at almost 3 months in, what have I been doing?

Grant proposals: My first two tasks were working on grant proposals (which Craig had already started). The first was to secure funding to hold a sensitization meeting with nurses at community clinics to prepare them with MSM specific knowledge. The other is for a youth-at-risk project doing peer education similar to ARC’s MSM program. The grants were successful and we are waiting on the funding, hurray! I’m still compiling a giant excel spreadsheet of funders for ARC to look to apply to and look to in the future.

An internal and external Annual Work Plan for ARC: ARC’s Strategic Plan, identifies that annual work plans are to be developed yearly, outlining the goals and action items for ARC for the up coming year. I went through the Strategic Plan and combed for both tangible goals and more abstract ones and proposed action items month-by-month including networking, outreach, advocacy, funding, and program goals for each objective. Craig will take this to the Board and they will finalize it.

A Youth HIV prevention manual: ARC’s work with at-risk youth is being funded through PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). This is a manual including HIV and STI facts, prevention facts, communication tips, condom usage diagrams, and more that will be distributed to youth who are at-risk during outreach events and through peer-to-peer sessions. Craig and I are currently in the middle of formatting a series of infographics that I created online.

Coupons: ARC now has coupons! These represent a partnership with a local private clinic that will accept client’s ARC coupons and do their testing for free.

Attending World AIDS Day/16 Days of Activism meetings: World AIDS Day and 16 Days of Activism are coming up in late November and ARC has been a part of the planning committee. The events are going to include a fun walk, an open fair day, a testing day, and more.  Moreover, these events will give ARC a chance to promote itself so that people know about it. I’ll talk more about World AIDS Day in my next post.

Advocacy: As per ARC’s Strategic plan, ARC is trying to build a long term Advocacy program to empower, engage and retain its peer educators but also to grow its member base. Having expressed to Craig that I was interested in Advocacy, I’ve had the space to research and propose program ideas. I researched resources for empowering ARC’s specific target groups and ran a sort-of visioning session with the MSM to see what they wanted to accomplish and felt they could achieve. We started by mapping out where MSM could access services (from the government, NGOs, the hospital, private businesses, etc) such as testing, information about HIV, condoms and lubricants, and where MSM could congregate, to figure out what capacities really needed addressing. One immediate conclusion was that there is nowhere in Antigua that MSM are welcome to congregate freely without discrimination. In lieu of a physical place for MSM, we decided to set up a private Facebook group as an online platform for peer educators to communicate prevention messages with their clients. I was inspired by a Facebook page called loveLife aimed at providing positive prevention messages and a safe space for South African youth. Check out their page here. ARC’s group is currently being piloted as we develop engagement strategies, educational messages and the peer educators slowly add their clients. It is very exciting! During the visioning session, the guys also explained their interest in Advocacy and outreach events for the upcoming months. These included: having a meet-and-greet event once they’d established a bit of a community online with their clients to further mobilize the MSM population, producing a public service announcement on MSM related issues, holding a massive testing drive during the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and requesting more internal advocacy workshops. All of these programs are incredibly exciting and can be repeated annually pending the budget to do so. Fortunately, ARC currently has an amfAR grant for MSM outreach and advocacy and I have been busy writing the final proposal and budget to update amfAR on our plans.

Looking for a grant for an office space: All of ARC’s target populations desperately need a place to congregate. In an advocacy session, I asked the guys where the gay-friendly venues were that people hung out at. After a few seconds of silence and looking to each other for an answer, one of them said, “bars?” ARC definitely needs an office space and these guys agree. Got any ideas? Send them my way!

Ideas that have failed: A partners meeting with other HIV stakeholders and partners. This was a task Samara and I had wanted to initiate while looking at ARC’s actors and influencers and their overlapping programs. However, having attended a few meetings with these partners, it is apparent that every organization has their own mandate, politics and funding sources and that cooperation between these organizations is generally left for public events. However, the Directorate of Gender Affairs does bring these partners together annually to host a referral meeting and produce a booklet of “safe and friendly” services for gender minority groups and HIV target populations. This meeting will be coming up in January.

My friend Seb lent me, “No time to lose” by Peter Piot before I left home. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and letting it drag out. Peter Piot was the former (and first) Executive Director of UNAIDS. He helped uncover the Ebola epidemic and subsequently the international HIV epidemic. Although Piot is a doctor, his experience and insights made him an excellent candidate for the leadership of UNAIDS. It’s quite the appropriate book to be reading while being here. While Piot was responsible for massive, impact-driven, high level decision making and programmatic interventions and I am doing nothing of the sort, his biography outlines his approach to the HIV epidemic, which challenges conventional notions of development, global health, and aid with attempts to reach all members of society. As I’ve read about his bureaucratic struggles, issues with mobilizing political support, long term solutions, HIV prevention strategies (condoms!), and funding proposals, I’ve found myself thinking about the organizations, ministries and individuals in Antigua which represent a microcosm of this broader fight against HIV, dealing with the same issues on a smaller scale. It is both motivating and frightening and I often find myself putting the book down (and taking a dip in the ocean if I’m on the beach!) to ponder Piot’s strategies and insights. Perhaps I need to be reading more fiction!

Miscellaneous:

I am in love with every lizard and frog I find. I’m also convinced that Sebastian, the crab from the Little Mermaid, walked across the street in front of me the other day.

I’m very pleased with the amount of dialect I understand.

To my dismay, the mosquitoes and I are quite friendly.

I love street chicken on Friday nights. Especially from Anisha’s.

Apparently people can be allergic to the sun. Here’s to 3 more months of sneezing!

With love,

D

 

Dara Gordon
Dara Gordon

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