More to Do
"Here comes the 'AIDS lady!" Carine Siltz, founder of African Advocates against AIDS, in Garner, North Carolina, hears that a lot when she approaches a group of African immigrants to spread her gospel of HIV prevention.
Siltz has been called AIDS related names before. Back in her native Congo, her mother and father, a doctor, contracted HIV and both died of AIDS. Her father died when Siltz was 13 and her mother followed eight years later. Her community, fearful and misinformed, shunned her and her little sister.
That was her life until she moved to the United States, and became certified in nonprofit management, HIV education and training. She felt she owed this to her parents.
From Congo to North Carolina
In North Carolina, among African immigrants like herself, Siltz realized HIV was ravaging her community just as it did in the Congo. The issues and barriers were the same.
"There are so many African churches here, but there was no connection with the local system of care," Siltz said. Many didn't know free HIV testing was available. "There was nothing really for AIDS awareness in our community, period."
African Advocates against AIDS
From a home-based operation called African Teens against AIDS, in 2002, Siltz's organization grew into African Advocates against AIDS, which now receives federal grants, has its own office space, and offers programs for individuals and families, including health referrals.
"I know my community," Siltz said. "Since they love dancing, eating and entertainment, all the events have good rewards, such as cell phones, for completion of the trainings," Siltz added.
The events bolster self esteem and build on the community's strengths. The Hair Braiding Project uses hair braiders as messengers of HIV prevention.
"You can braid hair. That's a skill I don't have. You can save lives with just the right information. You don't have to be a doctor," Siltz tells the braiders.
People listen to Siltz, the 'AIDS lady, because her story rings true to them. "She's a young woman who lost her parents to AIDS and is open about it," said Tanya Frazier, an AAAA board member, "You think, 'I know someone like that.' It's not a faceless character. It's one of your family and friends."
For Siltz, giving knowledge is the key. Her work also keeps her parents' memory alive. "Every time I'm reaching out to someone else, I know they're watching over me and that makes me happy," she said.
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org