America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

Curbing Disease and Discrimination in the Middle East

The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Andria Enns. Andria will be volunteering with United Planet in Jordan. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!

My mouse hovered over the “submit” button, and I didn’t know if I had the courage to click. I had been working hard for days on a grant proposal, asking the United Nations for $100,000 USD (about 71,000 Jordanian Dinars) to support growing an arts education program for teenagers throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The amount would help the NGO reach nearly 16,000 teenagers. I had never written a grant before – let alone one worth so much money, and so competitive.

The NGO I’m working with, MENA Friends of the Global Fund, works to eliminate malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in the region, as well as end discrimination against patients living with disease. One of the ways they do this is through arts education workshops. A visual artist and a health educator visit a high school in the region and talk about disease prevention, free and confidential ways to get tested, and ways to break the silence surrounding disease. These workshops are often the only education a youth in MENA gets about HIV/AIDS – and the educators are not allowed to talk about condoms, as it is believed that if youth know how to protect themselves, they will have sex.

The workshops open the floor for the youth to discuss their ideas. Usually, though, the biggest communications are in the art. They draw pictures of overcoming obstacles, living with disease, loneliness, and oftentimes pictures of things they’ve witnessed. Though the workshops do not mention contracting HIV/AIDS from drug use, many teens draw pictures of the people in their life using needles to inject drugs.

Needle User

In a workshop, one teen drew a picture of someone with HIV/AIDS lesions using heroin.

Health in general is a taboo topic here. Any ailment at all is seen as shameful – even asthma or seasonal allergies. If you aren’t doing well, it’s expected that you will keep it to yourself. Talking about going to the doctor – even for a routine check-up – is done in whispers, as if you’re talking about something deeply humiliating. That’s why breaking the silence is so important. People are so afraid to get checked – because having tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS can result in eviction, being fired, and being divorced – that they’re dying in silence. (Tuberculosis is curable with a round of antibiotics, but people with HIV/AIDS are 30-times more likely to contract – and die from – it.)

If you attempt to talk to most Jordanians about HIV/AIDS, you are likely to get one of three responses: “We don’t have that here.” “HIV/AIDS is a conspiracy.” Or “Only immoral people – like homosexuals, adulterers and prostitutes – get HIV/AIDS so I don’t think it’s a problem we should try to solve.” I’ve heard all of these from Jordanians outside of the office.

That’s why it’s so important to reach teenagers. Teenagers still believe they can change the world, they can make a difference, and they can lead the revolution of values. And maybe reaching them will have real impact – they’ll talk about it amongst themselves and make different choices for their generation.

And the only way MENA Friends has figured out to reach them is through workshops in their schools. Workshops in very conservative, rural areas where HIV/AIDS is never talked about. Places where the community is in desperate need of disease education and prevention.

As I thought about all this, I knew I had to muster up the courage to click. It was deadline day for the proposal, but my supervisor was out sick. I asked the only manager on duty to look at it, and she said she didn’t know what she was looking for. Even if she did, her English isn’t so good. It was all on me.

With a deep breath and a stomach more twisted than when asking out a middle school crush, I clicked it. And it was done. All that’s left is to wait until June, when they announce where the grants are going. “Do you think we’ll get it?” my coworkers keep asking, daring to dream.

All I can answer is, “Insha’allah, God willing,” the Arab way of saying you dearly hope so.

About Andi:

Andi Enns is a student in the Degree with Honors Program at Park University, studying journalism and public relations. She is an AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient on a service trip to Amman, Jordan for three weeks over her winter break, working with a public health organization and staying with a local family.

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This entry was posted on January 5, 2012 by in Volunteer Related.
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