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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Offering the hand of friendship

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

By Maddie McIntyre

backpacks

Source: Dennischnapp

The face of the traditional kiwi OE (Overseas Experience) is changing as a global social conscience is awakening in young people. No longer satisfied with seeing the world from the top of a double-decker bus or from the window of an air conditioned hotel room, more and more New Zealanders in their late teens and  twenties are opting for a more ‘real’ and useful OE – they are choosing to volunteer. Tourism is being rejected for teaching. Souvenirs for social work. Motels for manual labour, and indifference for making a difference.

With programmes such as UNIVOL (A university volunteer programme, run by Volunteer Service Abroad) skilled youth are able to positively contribute to communities all over the world and help bring aid and practical assistance to people in need. Volunteers are being sent throughout the Pacific; to Asia and the Middle East; and to Africa. It is possible to choose between a short term voluntary experience which consists of only a few weeks or a single aid project such as building a water tank, or a longer term programme which allows you to really integrate yourself into a community and spend months (or even years!) getting to know the locals and supporting the community.

But is volunteering always a good idea? Who, in the end, does it actually benefit? Are these young people making a difference to those in need or simply soothing their own conscience? Despite the seemingly genuine intentions of those who choose to volunteer many criticisms have arisen surrounding the integrity and usefulness of some volunteer programmes. Some argue that volunteering has changed into a form of ‘voluntourism’, where the volunteering has become viewed as a new ‘novelty’ form of travel, and these organisations and individuals are actually placing a heavier burden on the communities they are trying to assist by using up resources and requiring accommodation and food.

Though it could be said that volunteering can have its downsides the accounts of two young volunteers, Kathy Impey and Josie Orr, and their personal experiences with international volunteer work seem to provide solid evidence that the overseas volunteer experience can be a life-enriching experience and a worthwhile endeavor for both for the volunteer and the locals.

Josie Orr

josie-orr_portrait

Source: VSA

Why did you decide to volunteer overseas?
I was basically looking for something to do after I finished my degree (BA in Human Geography) that was related to what I had studied, so it just came at the right time really. Also I was interested in travelling but wanted to do more than just go as a tourist. Also growing up with both parents having done volunteer assignments made me aware of what an awesome experience it is!

Who did you work for and what kind of work did you do?
I worked for Wan Smolbag Theatre, a not for profit organisation set up by two expats 21 years ago. The organisation uses drama to inform, raise awareness and encourage public discussion on a range of contemporary health, lifestyle, environment and governance issues.

Five years ago they opened their youth centre, where I worked. The youth centre was established to provide out-of-school and unemployed youth, who basically who had nothing to do, with informal classes, workshops, and activities e.g. hip hop dance, nutrition, playing guitar, sewing, agriculture and sports. Enrolment wasn’t just for youth (with the youngest enrolled member 3 and the oldest 53!) so activities catered for all ages.

What were the biggest issues facing the young people you were working with over in Vanuatu? How did you work with them and the other volunteers/locals to deal with these problems?
Unemployment is a major problem for Port Vila, as many youth from the outer islands and rural areas move to Port Vila in the hope to get paid work, but with such high demand and very little jobs available, many find themselves unemployed with nothing to do. This can lead to petty crime and youth turning to drugs etc. which are both becoming big issues for Vila. Through the activities the centre runs we were directly responding to the needs of the youth, giving children, youth and adults a chance to gain skills and experience, and participate in new activities.

What is the most important lesson you learnt from volunteering?
That no matter who we are, where we live, or our backgrounds, culture or language we really are all the same, we all experience the same situations in our lives and we can all learn from one another! Friendship is one of the most important things you can give to someone, and receive especially when you’re living in another country away from those you know!

Do you intend to volunteer again?
Yes I hope to volunteer again! I believe volunteering is the best way to travel – you get a real feel for the country you are visiting/living in and getting to know the locals means you get see the ‘real’ life of where you are. As well as being able to give back and contribute (if only in a small way) to the lives of the locals.

Source: VSA

Source: VSA

Kathy Impey

Why did you decide to volunteer overseas?
I had a long standing interest in Africa generally but especially South Africa (SA), my parents had lived in SA before I was born and left at the peak of apartheid when it became too problematic for them to stay. My father was teaching at a ‘black’ township school at a time when it was made illegal for white people to enter the townships. So I grew up attending anti-apartheid marches and surrounded by stories and photos of SA. On finishing high school I studied Human Geography and Social Work at university with the intention of gaining skills and knowledge that would enable me to travel to Africa.

Who did you work for and what kind of work did you do?
I worked at an activities centre in Mdantsane and I did a huge range of work, much of it not what I had expected to do, and most of it was just a case of getting involved and doing whatever needed doing. Officially I was a junior programmes advisor, so I worked with a team of local youth volunteers and a small core of local staff to plan, co-ordinate and run after school activities including like soccer, setting up a girls self-defense programme (I have a black belt in TKD and a sports coaching back-ground) and teaching basic computer skills.

What was your biggest reservation/fear going into the volunteer programme?
That I wouldn’t actually have much to offer by way of skills or knowledge, I felt very inexperienced and worried that I might seem arrogant as a young outsider arriving there and expecting that I knew enough to be able to help. As it was my fears were silly, I had very supportive colleagues who were so accepting and positive from day one, although there were inevitably some misunderstandings, they let me learn from my own mistakes and I learnt to be guided, but also to speak up when I felt I could contribute.

How did the reality of your experience differ from your initial expectations?
My expectations were fairly accurate having studied SA a lot and travelled there as a child. Going back I was surprised how extreme the racial segregation remained, and how much your skin still defined how you were perceived and what was expected of you. I had perhaps been a bit naïve, but being a white foreigner (and young, female, blonde etc) meant that I was very conspicuous in the townships and when I travelled. I got used to being stared at and questioned about my life, for many people it was the first time they had been spoken to as equals by a white person, so there was a lot of curiosity and attention.

What was one of the most important things you got out of your experience?
Breaking down racial barriers and making human connections was one of the most rewarding aspects of being there, watching the kids in the preschool move from being initially scared of me, to climbing all over me and treating me as a huge novelty, then by the end of the year, just giving me a hug, saying hello and carrying on as normal- that transition to seeing me as just another person was a huge shift.

One thing that is quite important to me is that here in NZ often people hear only about the bad things in SA, the crime, the poverty etc, those things are true in some ways, but hearing about the positive side of SA is something that happens a lot less, and I try to draw on my UNIVOL experience and speaking opportunities/interviews to get the message across that despite its problems and bad press, SA also has a very positive story to tell, and I hope this comes through in my answers to your questions.

To read the full interviews click here.


VSA Project Friendship 2010

Over 200 schools and Girl Guide units took part in VSA Project Friendship 2010, held from August 9 to 15. More than 37,000 handwoven friendship bracelets went on sale during the week to help raise awareness about the work that VSA volunteers do, working alongside communities striving for change in the pacific Asia and Africa.

Members of the senior council at Kaitaia College in Northland show off their friendship bracelets. Photo courtesy of The Northland Age.

Members of the senior council at Kaitaia College in Northland show off their friendship bracelets. Photo courtesy of The Northland Age.

This year VSA Project Friendship focused on youth.  Money from each sale will be used to support VSA volunteers who are working with young people on issues such as children’s rights, HIV/AIDS and the environment.

There was an enthusiastic response from those who took part. Amanda Moore, a member of the senior council at Kaitaia College in Northland, says they decided to support Project Friendship because they think VSA is a good organisation. She says the response they got from other students was really positive – “they were really interested” – and that even the boys at the school were keen to buy bracelets.

“They were all buying them for their friends, which is really nice.”

Three young VSA volunteers also wrote blogs to provide further insight into the challenges faced by the Kiwi volunteers and young people in developing countries They will keep blogging till the end of September – check out their blog posts,  it’s a great chance to get the inside story on the role that young New Zealanders play in the global community.

For more information about VSA, or to read the VSA Project Friendship blogs, visit www.vsa.org.nz


TAKE ACTION
!

  • If you are interested in becoming a VSA Volunteer and feel you have valuable skills that could be put to good use in developing communities then contact the VSA via their website or call  (04) 472 5759
  • Feel like volunteering locally or making a difference to your own community first? Check out your local community volunteering office. Check out www.volunteernow.org.nz for volunteer opportunities all over the country.


LEARN MORE

www.vsa.org.nz
www.justfocus.org.nz
www.ethicalvolunteering.org
Good intentions aren’t enough

So you want to be a voluntourist?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Lily Morrissey

volun-class1

Photo by L Shave @ flickr

In our times of cheap air travel, ergonomically designed backpacks, and heightened social consciousness, increasing numbers of young people from western countries are mixing their travels with volunteer work.

Voluntourism has exploded over the last few decades, with the voluntourist market now peaking at US$2.6bn per year. Like shopping for a new shampoo, would-be volunteers can peruse thousands of online Volunteer Sending Organisations (VSOs) for programs all over the developing world. From rescuing miniature monkeys in the Amazon to teaching orphans English in Somalia, voluntourist programs have been lavished with praise from outlets as diverse as CNN and National Geographic Traveller.

Why the love affair?

The general consensus to date has been that volunteer tourism is good for everyone because it:

  • Fosters selflessness and cultural awareness
  • Brings people from different parts of the global village together
  • Brings revenue to the developing community
  • Utilizes volunteer labor for underfunded projects
  • and Promotes ecological sustainability.

One participant in the US based Earthwatch Programme which toured conservation projects of central America sums it up in her voluntourist diary:

‘Volunteers obviously provide free manpower to the scientists, but more importantly, upon our return home, we can raise awareness of the issues we witnessed with our own eyes’.

volun-teach

Photo by bertrudestein @ flickr

Sounds great! So what’s the problem?

You are a child living in an orphanage in Thailand that is dependent on the funds and labour of voluntourists. They come to teach you English for several weeks each, comically and monotonously repeating the same introductory lessons over and over. You have a perfect grasp of ‘Hi, how are you’, and ‘My name is’, but you never have the same teacher long enough to get any further. You don’t understand these people, and you have learned not to get too attached. Why do they all keep trying to teach you the same thing? And where are they going in such a hurry? Unfortunately, I didn’t make this story up; according to Pierre De Hanscutter, president of SJVietnam (a youth non-profit VSO) it’s being written into chapter one of thousands of lives right now. His is just one of a number of critical voices which are raising themselves above the top of the warm and fuzzy clamour. These voices say that voluntourism can result in:

  • Programs which ignore locals’ real wants and needs
  • Work being left unfinished or done badly due to voluntourists lack of skills
  • Voluntourists taking jobs from locals and creating dependance on foreign donors
  • Feelings of differences being reinforced rather than broken down because of the obvious gap in wealth and power between volunteers and people they are ‘helping’.
  • Voluntourists coming away from the experience feeling as though they have ‘done their bit’ and don’t need to do any more, either in their own country or elsewhere.
  • The presence of volunteers changing the local culture and economy so that communities lose their culture and traditions.
  • Volunteers feeding corrupt practises by handing cash over to dodgy organisations.

Development volunteer and journalist J.B MacKinnon worries that voluntourism is becoming a ‘consumer experience’ catering to the needs of the paying volunteer. After a quick glance at a couple of VSO websites I could see his point. Rather than talk about the needs of communities and matching skills to positions, they promise an easy ‘adventure experience’ so you can be ‘doing something different’ and pursuing ‘personal development’. The alarm bells started ringing: exactly who is this industry working for?

volun-money1For a few enterprising people, it’s working very, very well. Many voluntourism programs come with a hefty price tag attached, and few programs have transparent systems of accountability. Take Sarah’s account of her experience in Ghana.

She and 17 others each contributed AU$1500 to build toilets over six weeks, pooling a budget of $27,000 in a community where the average villager earns $5 per month. ‘So imagine how I felt’, she writes, ‘when I discovered that our accommodation was not paid for, the utilities were not paid for, the builder’s time was unpaid, and the only thing our budget seemed to be used for was to purchase a couple of effluent pipes…So, what happened to the $27,000? You tell me… If you contacted a Chief or Assembly Man in a local community in a country like Ghana…you could use your $1500 to help those who really needed it’.

(more…)

Ship for World Youth

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


www.swynz.org.nz

What is it?

The Ship for World Youth (SWY) is a global youth exchange program in which nearly 4,000 people from 62 countries have participated. Organised by the Japanese government, the purposes of the  program are:

- to broaden the global view of Japanese young people

- to promote mutual understanding and friendship between Japanese and foreign youth

- to cultivate the spirit of international cooperation and the competence to practice it

- to foster young people with the capability of showing leadership in various areas of international society

The Ship sails each year, carrying 120 Hapanese youth and 150 youth from other countries. Living together with youth from different countries on board the ship for 50 days, participants engage in discussions and lectures by specialists as well as arrange various events such as national presentation and club activities. SWY visits eastbound regions (Oceania, North, Central and South American regions) and westbound regions (Southwest Asian, African, and Middle Eastern regions) countries every other year.

How can I get involved?

Apply!!

Each year, the New Zealand Government waits to hear if it has been invited to participate. If so, it posts the invitation out to all youth organisations that have registered interest with the Ministry of Youth Development. It also puts the application form on the Ministry of Youth Development web site, and the New Zealand Ship for World Youth Alumni Association ‘NZSWYAA’ will also have the application and information available on this web site.

After the invitation has been received, which will give the number of positions available, the dates for the program and the route, the Ministry then invites applications from young people involved in youth activity, you don’t have to be member of a youth organisation, but you need to show that you are actively involved with youth. After that the Ministry and the SWY alumni will short list the applicants, and members of the Alumni will interview those on the short list. The successful applicants will be notified of their success, and will begin to prepare for the program. You can also email us at the NZSWYAA to find out more if you have specific queries.

Gomad

Monday, March 16th, 2009

gomad

http://networking.gomad.co.nz/

Gomad is a volunteer networking site (www.gomad.co.nz) created by ‘GOOD’ magazine to connect volunteers around NZ and bring change.

Once signed up you can network with other like-minded people and find volunteer opportunities round NZ.

VSA (Volunteer Service Abroad)

Friday, February 20th, 2009


www.vsa.org.nz

What do they do?
VSA recruits and sends skilled New Zealanders to work as volunteers with communities in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.

How can I get involved?
Volunteer overseas! VSA has formed an alliance with Students Partnerships Worldwide (SPW) and is recruiting now for 18-28 year olds looking for a 9-11 month experience in Africa. You will go through a training programme, where you’ll learn new and fun ways of teaching messages about health and the environment. Then you will be posted to a community with local volunteers, where you will be supported by SPW to work on one of three key themes: health (and in particular HIV/AIDS education), the environment, or community development.

SurfAid

Friday, February 20th, 2009

surfaid_logo

www.surfaidinternational.org

What do they do?
The mission of SurfAid International, a non-profit humanitarian organization, is to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in remote areas connected to NZ through surfing. SurfAid is the recipient of the 2007 WANGO (World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations) Humanitarian Award.

How can I get involved?

Donate directly to SurfAid

Schools programme – The SurfAid International Schools Program, sponsored by Billabong, is an excellent way to get involved and interested in a fascinating part of the world and some very important global issues. By organizing fundraisers for SurfAid at your school, you’ll have heaps more opportunities to get involved with the work they do. In 2008, Nick Evemy from Tga Boys College “won” a trip to Indonesia as highest student fundraiser for SurfAid (over $1000) as a branch of the SurfAid schools programme. Billabong underwrote the cost for him and his dad to visit projects we do in the Mentawai Islands. All details are available on SurfAid’s schools website: http://schools.surfaidinternational.org under fundraising.

Habitat for Humanity

Monday, February 16th, 2009

habitat

www.habitat.org.nz

What do they do?
Habitat for Humanity is an international not-for-profit organisation. The ultimate goal of Habitat for Humanity is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the face of the earth by building adequate and basic housing. Habitat for Humanity in New Zealand is a not-for-profit Christian organisation that works in partnership with people of goodwill and families in need, to eliminate sub-standard housing by building and selling simple, decent houses on an affordable basis.

How can I get involved?
Locally:

Volunteering for house builds - There are 11 Habitat for Humanity “affiliates” (branches) throughout New Zealand, from Northland to Invercargill. House builds take place throughout the year, dependent on land availability and building consent.

Assisting with fundraising - Habitat for Humanity encourage individuals and volunteers to come up with innovative and fun ways to work together with the community to raise further funds for their activities. If you would like to run an event or create personal challenges that will raise funds, contact your local affiliate.

Assisting with administration at your local affiliate – Volunteers can help in a range of different ways, not just on the building site! They need people that can assist with fundraising, catering for events, general administration, and all sorts of things. If you have a skill and some time that you think they may be able to make use of, go and check them out – they’d love to see you.

Globally:
Global Village Trips - This is where teams of volunteers visit countries in need and help build houses in the local communities. Global Village teams bring invaluable support to the communities they visit. More homes are built each year because of the donation Global Village teams make to the host community. You do not need prior building experience. If you have a sense of adventure, are in good health and willing to work hard, you can be part of a Global Village team! Participants under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian or be part of an organized school, faith or service group. If you would like to join an existing team as an individual, check out the Global Village Trip Schedule and contact the team leader.

Oxfam

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

oxfamvrgreen2highres

www.oxfam.org.nz

What do they do?

Oxfam is a Humanitarian organisation is dedicated to finding lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Oxfam New Zealand was formed in1991, and has now developed an international reputation for its development work in the Pacific and East Asia, its focus on practical solutions to the emerging crisis in water and sanitation and its campaigning for rights.

How can I get involved?

  • Become an Oxfam campaigner - Campaign activities can range from spending two minutes on an email action through to fronting up to politicians to ask questions about their policies on aid, trade and debt.
  • Trailwalker Challenge - raise $2000 to help to overcome poverty and injustice by tackling 100km of tough NZ terrain
  • The Amazing Race - race other teams through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to raise money for Oxfam projects
  • Oxjam - a month of music with a message. NZ artists busk and throw concerts to raise awareness about Oxfam’s work. They are always looking for volunteers, organisers and fresh ideas and content.
  • ‘Good Books’ and gifts – Buy your books at the online store, and all profits go to Oxfam projects. You can also buy gifts for your friends and family that directly benefit poor communities.
  • Send them stamps – Yup, Oxfam will sort through your old stamps and sell them to collectors!
  • Volunteer – Oxfam are always on the lookout for help with their programmes.
  • Donate to Oxfam
  • Read a Publication – Oxfam produce high quality, up-to-date publications on Poverty and Development issues around the world. Expand your mind and read one today!

PYF: A trip to Tahiti, but what else would it be?

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Nicole Mathewson

tahitian girl dancersI boarded the tiny plane in Westport on July 14, nervous and unprepared. I hadn’t even read half of the information we’d been sent. I was excited to finally get a chance to go overseas, but by this stage I had convinced myself it was going to be terrible. They wouldn’t feed me enough (I like food), the people would be super brainy and super snobbish (how could a little West Coast girl ever compete?), not to mention old (I’m only 18 and the people going were aged from 16-30), and I’d get lost (the amount of youth going to the festival was more than the population of my entire town)!

Then as I munched the delicious chocolate chip airplane cookie I suddenly changed my mind (I’m funny like that). The Pacific Youth Festival will be great, I told myself.

And you know what? It was.

nicole and lyndon's presentationI was immediately welcomed by the 16 other New Zealanders at our one-day workshop in Auckland on the 15th (they weren’t mean after all). And I soon realised I was the only one who was feeling nervous and ill-prepared. And I was one of the youngest people there, but it never became an issue. We all came from different backgrounds, and different parts of the country, but here we were all equal.

We boarded the plane to Tahiti the next day and I discovered something better than airplane cookies - airplane socks!

Up to 1000 youth from around the Pacific (plus three from a youth organisation in France - yes France at a PACIFIC festival, proving how much control they still have in the country) were present for the six day festival. Our goal was to create the first Pacific Charter (a task that proved even more difficult than first imagined).

Our first day was spent exploring Pape’ete, the capital of French Polynesia, and then we got straight into it on Monday morning with the opening ceremony. The most inspiring part of that for me wasn’t in any of the speeches, but was seeing New Caledonia’s refusal to march under the French flag. It was something that became the big topic of the festival, even though originally the organisers tried hard to avoid the topic altogether - decolonisation (which, put very briefly, is the process in which a colony gains independence from a colonial power).
new caledonian sign at PYF
We attended conferences, workshops, and seminars focusing on the different themes of the festival including good governance, peace, education, cultural diversity, health, active citizenship, globalisation, equality, and sustainable development. We also watched cultural performances, had dinner and a dance at the Parliament, spent a recreational day on the island of Mo’orea, and sang - a lot!

Unfortunately, New Zealand wasn’t able to perform a cultural presentation. A lack of time to practise (and the fact we hadn’t met before the trip, let alone performed together) , a lack of indigenous people in the delegation (decreasing the authenticity of the performance), and the debate over what we would perform (Maori or Moriori - and what particular songs or dances) were to blame. The lack of performance is something I hope is rectified in time for the next Pacific Youth Festival in Fiji in 2009.

A variety of culture was everywhere. On the stage, in the fashion, in conversation. And learning about it all was incredible: seeing Samoan men in skirts (and looking good in them), learning about the history of islands like Rapanui (Easter Island), Marshall and Norfolk from the people who lived there, hearing Tongan men praising the attractiveness of bigger-sized women over stick-thin figures (image conscious people take note!), and practising Tahitian songs.
pacific couple
Language barriers were daunting at first, but we soon found there were other ways to communicate than just talking. Though we did do a lot of talking - and I think that’s where people learned the most, in general conversation at the meal table (where the food wasn’t all that bad), or outside our accommodation with a guitar or ukelele or some kind of instrument in hand.

A clear highlight for many (myself included) was the “Decolonisation with Justice” workshop organised by two Kiwis on the last day. It was a chance to finally talk about the effects of colonisation in our respective countries, something that many people hadn’t been allowed to talk about before. Colonisation had affected practically every Pacific Island nation, including New Zealand (the European and Māori conflict anyone?). The importance of keeping native languages and cultures alive and in practise featured heavily in many workshops along with the problems islanders faced in achieving that because of colonisation. Even in our host country, French Polynesia, the Maohi (native Tahitians), grew up unable to speak their own language because of the disapproval from the occupying French. The same thing happened to the Māori in New Zealand when the English arrived, showing that New Zealand faced many of the same issues as other Pacific Island nations and our place at the festival was certainly justified.

NZ delegationAnother highlight was meeting three Moriori youth from New Zealand. I never learned anything about the Moriori people at school. All I knew was something about “the Moriori being eaten by the Māori”… It was interesting learning about how the Moriori were still very much alive and the efforts being made to resurrect their language and culture. Their fight to rectify the shame people felt in being identified as Moriori (even more than Māori, Moriori people in the past were looked down upon and forced to hide or forget their culture) was incredibly inspiring.

While being saturated in culture during the festival was amazing and inspiring, it also became a kind of lowlight as it made me start to ask myself “what is my culture?” As a New Zealand European/Pakeha I felt out of place at the festival without a culture of my own that I could share, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one from Australasia who felt that way.

Even though I didn’t understand everything that was going on, I felt comfortable there. By the end of the festival I didn’t want to leave. I learned more in one week about culture, respect and love than I did in all my years at primary and secondary school. The Pacific Youth Festival wasn’t just a trip to Tahiti, it was also an experience I’ll never forget.

LEARN MORE:

TAKE ACTION:

  • Encourage your local school to teach students more about the Pacific and Moriori people.
  • Write articles to newspapers and magazines about Pacific Issues.
  • Make changes to led a more sustainable life (recycling is a good way to start) and encourage others to do the same.
  • Get involved with an organisation or group working on Pacific Issues (like Just Focus!)
  • Encourage an end to stereotypes and racism (not all Pacific Islanders wear grass skirts and live off coconuts…)

Photos by the Aotearoa NZ delegation, including: Annie Boanas, Elise Broadbent and Lyndon Burford.

sunset over mo'orea

HIV/AIDs

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

Eva Lawrence

All the time we hear about global pandemics like Bird Flu. We’re always told that we are at risk, but never given the guts of it… Like for instance, HIV/AIDS. What does it mean for me, an average young person living in Aotearoa New Zealand? Why should I care? It’s a scary thing that exists on the other side of the world and we’d rather ignore it right? Wrong.

Currently, about 40 million people live with HIV/AIDS worldwide. 12 000 people are infected with HIV every day

HIVposter
In 2003 there were 188 new diagnoses of HIV reported in Aotearoa New Zealand, the highest ever! The figures for 2005 are likely to be higher. Latest stats show that the rate of new HIV infections among gay/bi men in New Zealand alone was one every four days! In the past five years in Aotearoa New Zealand, the rate of heterosexuals diagnosed with HIV infection is equal to homosexuals diagnosed (NZAF). This means that HIV is an issue for all of us, whether you are gay, bi or straight.

AIDS is the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide. Young people, mostly young women, make up nearly half of the new cases of HIV infections worldwide — one every 14 seconds.

Young people are the group most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and we are also the window of hope’ — we’re the ones who can stop the spread and turn the pandemic around.

Are we at risk?
While HIV may seem far away from life here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the disease may have a big impact here in the next few years. The rates of HIV in Papua New Guinea are the same as the rates were in South Africa in 1990 — just before the epidemic. The Pacific region (of which we are a part) is vulnerable, like Africa.

Don’t believe me? Aotearoa New Zealand holds the not-so-glorious title of having some of the highest rates of Chlamydia and teen pregnancy in the developed world… which means we are at risk of HIV. Having an STI can make you ten times more vulnerable to HIV because the existing STI makes it easier for HIV to gain hold in your body. And of course, both the high STI and teen pregnancy rates mean a lot of unprotected sex is goin on.

What is it?
HIV stands for the “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”. HIV infects cells of the immune system, and destroys or impairs their function. When an immune system is deficient it can no longer fight off infection and disease. AIDS stands for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome”. The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. For people with AIDS, infections are often severe and sometimes fatal because the immune system is so damaged.

What are the causes of HIV/AIDS?
The HIV virus is transmitted through body fluids such as blood and semen, and occasionally breast milk. HIV is generally transmitted through sexual intercourse, intravenously (through needles) and from mother to child.

While these are the technical ways to get HIV, they are not the only factors that make people vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Here are some underlying causes of HIV transmission and vulnerability.

Poverty
95 out of every hundred people with HIV live in the developing world. Poverty makes people more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and in turn, the virus leads to an increase in poverty. Poverty also leads people to unsafe practices such as prostitution. Poverty exists in the Pacific and here too.

While poverty is not a major contributor in Aotearoa New Zealand at the present, global pandemics affect poor people more than wealthy due to issues such as access to health care and resources. Regardless of this, whether you are rich or poor, you are still vulnerable to HIV.

Gender inequality
Women are more vulnerable to infection than men as they often don’t have control over if, how and with who they have sex. Teenage girls in some African countries are six times more likely to be infected with HIV than are boys of the same age (UNFPA).

Child Abuse and Rape
Children are often infected with HIV through sexual abuse. Some adult men are seeking young female partners (under 15) in an attempt to avoid HIV infection. Coerced sex including rape, increases risk of cuts to the vagina and anus and therefore of HIV infection.

Education
People are still ignorant about HIV. A recent survey in 17 countries around the world showed that over half the youth questioned couldn’t name any methods to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS (UNFPA). Furthermore, almost half of 15 to 19 year old girls questioned in sub-Saharan Africa, didn’t know that a healthy looking person can have HIV/AIDS (youthandhiv.org).

Mobile populations
The movement of people within and between countries has led to the spread of HIV. In many countries men will work temporarily in the cities, at sea or for the armed forces, contract HIV and then return to their communities and unwittingly spread it.

People traveling on holiday also catch or spread HIV with local populations and other travelers through sex and intravenous drug use. Sex tourism is a major factor in HIV/AIDS spread in countries such as Cambodia.

Myths and Stigma
Inaccurate ideas about HIV/AIDS contribute to unsafe behaviour. Many young women in Africa have caught HIV due to the mistaken belief that infected men can cure’ themselves through sex with a virgin.

The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS often leads to exclusion and violence towards those infected. The fear of stigma means people get tested. Negative attitudes about the use of condoms also increase infection.

A major myth in NZ is that only gay men get HIV. As you can see from the statements above, it is increasingly becoming a heterosexual issue.

Silence
Silence is perhaps the biggest killer. HIV/AIDS is associated with sex and drugs and death. These are all things people don’t like to talk about. Silence and inaction has led to the pandemic that the world now faces. Only the breaking of the silence and concerted action will turn it around.

TAKE ACTION!

  • Wear a red ribbon to show you care about the issue, especially on World Aids Day - the 1st of December
  • Combat world poverty — join the Make Poverty History Campaign
  • Always. Use. A. Condom… got the message?
  • Break the silence — ask questions and challenge the stereotypes around HIV/AIDS

LEARN MORE

New Zealand AIDS Foundation
UNAIDS
AIDS CLOCK
Family Planning Association
The Global Education Centre

This article was originally published in Jet Magazine’s World View column and is published here with their permission. Images courtesy of Save The Children.