As you may be aware, December 1st is World AIDS Day. I don't remember this ever being a big deal back in the States but in the world of the Peace Corps it is one of the most important days of the year. John William asked me to help him with some activities in his site and I agreed. Though I had no idea what activities J-Dub had planned, I was happy to provide support.
Then two nights before the big day, Dubbers called to tell me that he had to make an emergency trip to Lima due to some medical concerns (don't worry he's okay!). Kyle, another PCV, and I said that we would go to his site to help facilitate the event. Neither of us really had any knowledge of what Dubly had planned and just wanted to help our friend because, of course, John William (I’m out of nicknames) would do the same thing for either of us.
When I arrived on Thursday things were already a bit chaotic. JW and his health promoters had planned a series of round robin events for all of the high school students which would be concluded with a parade through town. But many of the teachers were saying that they had not been informed of the event and, subsequently, would not be allowing their students to participate. Peruvian schools are always a bit of a mess and this day was no exception. The event started late, teachers complained about not receiving a free t-shirt, and the schedule was changed every fifteen minutes. The students we were able to collect, though, learned about pregnancy prevention, how to use a condom, the ease in which STDs can be passed, and other important sexual health topics.
Then it was time for the parade. After some strong words from a teacher, the band director finally got the band collected and we hit the streets of Jangas. I often think of some of the “larger” Peace Corps sites as being like Oostburg so I want you to imagine the following scenario in my idyllic little pueblito. We had four banners leading the parade, all of which expressed the need for condom use and HIV/AIDS prevention. The banners were followed by most of the high school students wandering about with almost no organization. Behind the students was the band, though Mr. Dall never would have let us march in such a disorganized fashion. For some reason, I was helping to carry the lead banner so I need you to imagine some random Peruvian leading the imaginary parade in Oostburg.
So just imagine we're walking from OHS down the street past the elementary school, going to the Piggly Wiggly, then turning down Main Street to loop back to the high school. Really no organization, just a mob of kids carrying banners about sex. Then, halfway through the parade route, the kids start handing out condoms to everyone they pass – bus drivers, store owners, moms with children, even sticking their heads through open windows to give condoms to the people hiding inside.
Well, that's exactly what happened during our parade. I was nervous at first, wondering if John William had gotten this approved or if I was going to be thrown out of a site that wasn't even mine, but people accepted with good humor and more than one guy held up his condom with a laugh. Providing youth, and their parents, with open and honest information about sexual health is one of the most important and tangible things that we do as Peace Corps Peru volunteers.
Though the day felt like a bit of a mess, I’m declaring it a success. We educated. We entertained. We hung out with jovenes (youth).
And maybe, just maybe, we helped some of them think of the consequences of their actions.
What more can I ask for?
(Also, I’m just really relieved I didn't have to dance with a doctor dressed up in a condom costume like my friend Sarah Yoss.)