Bethany’s laptop was teeming with ants by the end of her stay in Vang Vieng, Laos. Bethany had been volunteering with Fruit Friends, a nonprofit enterprise that works hand-in-hand with remote villagers to provide educational, agricultural and entrepreneurial opportunities. She quickly learned that insects were part of the daily life - including a protein rich element of the diet - of the Laotian people.
Having heard about TeachAIDS through family, Bethany had been determined to provide HIV education to her colleagues in Laos since her arrival. Aware that her computer was unlikely to survive more than a few days longer, she quickly tuned into the TeachAIDS YouTube channel.
Bethany screened the female Indian-English language version of the TeachAIDS tutorials for the business manager, house manager, and interns of Fruit Friends, among other staff members. Through the animations, she was able to assist her colleagues to answer some of their own pressing questions about HIV, including whether sharing razor blades and cooking knives can increase a person’s risk of HIV. Bethany noted that her colleagues were very happy to have the opportunity to discuss HIV. “They had so many questions and they had not had an opportunity to ask anyone these questions before. HIV is not something that is commonly discussed in Laos,” she observed, “but being aware of basic HIV facts in order to steer clear of contracting the infection is very important”.
Although Laos is classified as a low HIV prevalence country, the HIV infection is rapidly increasing, with remote areas particularly vulnerable to this disease. Many villages are so remote that it takes several days to reach them by foot, and they are completely cut off from the outside world during the wet season. Along with stigmas that preclude the open discussion of HIV, these conditions makes providing targeting HIV education is extremely difficult.
Realizing that the Fruit Friends staff are very well placed to deliver HIV education to the villages with which they work, Bethany saw an important opportunity to equip them with the knowledge they need to empower villagers to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV.
“Fruit Friends staff are well respected and well liked, so they are the perfect conduit to spark this discussion across the villages in which they work”We applaud Bethany and our partners at Fruit Friends and other organizations like The Samburu Girls Foundation, Action for the Needy, and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust who are simultaneously inducing change in their local communities and elevating their commitment to HIV prevention efforts worldwide. Their dedication leads them to overcome challenges such as a lack of electricity, cultural stigmas and even plagues of ants to make this possible.
Photo: Bethany (far right) delivered HIV education to the staff of Fruit Friends