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Howard University > Alternative Spring Break 2013

Roles Are Reversed When ASB Volunteers Talk with AIDS Patient

By Dominique Smiley
Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON (March 13, 2013) - One of the major goals of Howard University’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program is to make a difference in the lives of the needy and less fortunate, to have an impact.

The roles were reversed when Howard ASB student volunteers reached out to help those afflicted with HIV and AIDS.

Tears flowed freely as students sat silently listening to Shana, an AIDS victim, telling her life story at Joseph’s House, a hospice home for dying AIDS and cancer patients located in the Adams Morgan community of northwest Washington.

The mood was very somber. All eyes were on Shana as she explained to the group how sick she became after her diagnosis.
ASB Volunteers were moved and impressed by the people they talked with at Joseph's House, a hospice that provides healing care to homeless men and women dying of AIDS and cancer through physical nurturing, spiritual companionship and the restoration of dignity.

“I couldn’t even ride public transportation,” she said.  “Other people were more of a risk to me than I was to them,” because her immune system has been compromised by the disease.

 Shana’s condition got so bad that she could catch life-threatening pneumonia if she came in contact with someone who was in contact with someone with the common cold.

And how did she get the disease?

“My husband gave me the virus.” she told the students.

There was a long silence that was broken when a student began to sob. ASB volunteer Dawn Wilson, a musical education major and graduate student, reached for a tissue to wipe her tears away, causing many other students to become teary-eyed.

“I got emotional, because I could relate, and I felt her pain,” Wilson said. “I know what it’s like to be lied to.”

It was not only emotional, but it was enlightening as well.

“I learned about the power of faith and how it strengthens people, even in their greatest trials,” said Alexis Oyetibo, an ASB volunteer and freshman chemical engineering major. “I also realized that no one is exempt from these situations.”

One of the biggest stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS patients, experts say, is that the infected person had to have been engaging in risky behavior.   Shana’s story made it clear that it is not always the case.

George Kerr, the executive director of START (Syringe, Training, Advocacy, Resource, and Treatment) at Westminster, is also HIV positive.  Kerr said that many stigmas that people hold regarding people with HIV stem from the lack of communication about the virus.

“We do not talk about it enough.” he said.

 Kerr said to combat the stigma, more people must willing to talk about it, but for that to occur, HIV patients must get over their fears of being stigmatized.

Wilson said the visit to Joseph’s House was eye-opening.

“It’s one thing to hear about victims, but it’s a whole other story when you actually meet and get to talk to a victim.” Wilson said. “It has helped me to better understand the virus.”

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