Part of my internship so far has been to work with a group of teens living with HIV. Most of these youth were born with HIV, but a few were infected by blood transfusion. There are also other kids, even younger, who participate in a Vía Libre program for young people living with HIV, but they haven’t been told their diagnosis by their parents yet. There are all sorts of complications with telling youngsters that they’re living with HIV – they might not even understand what HIV is, they might tell their friends, which could result in unanticipated discrimination, etc. The teens know their status and understand the ramifications of disclosing to friends, teachers, and others. Most of the teens I’ve been working with haven’t told any friends or teachers, and some of their family members don’t even know. Many of these teens were adopted by their current families, because their parents have already died from AIDS.
My first chance to work with this group was my first week at Vía Libre, when I sat in on a session where they were making suggestions how to improve two websites. Vía Libre has a specific site for these youth, with a lot of information about living with HIV and why one must take one’s medications on time, every day. The other site is for an international meeting in November in Lima (with representatives of all of Latin America) of adolescents living with HIV. I was very interested listening to their suggestions (more colors, more pictures, music, etc), but especially because they had such wonderful stories about why one should take one’s medication, how they learned their diagnosis, what issues they face, and what they think can be done about them. After that first meeting, I asked the project director if we could approach the teens about if they’d like to record their own voices explaining the facts of HIV and some of their personal stories. Since then, we’ve had two recording sessions, both for the informational Vía Libre page and for a welcome message for the international meeting webpage. I’m excited to see where else this goes in the coming weeks!