I’m a Harvard educator, an activist, an innovator, a volunteer, etc. and the new “Teen-Testers” initiative is designed to break down AIDS stigmas and get youth comfortable with HIV testing — everywhere, because ultimately, lives are saved.
When my dreams fly away at the crack of dawn, I’m at my desk checking my emails. Every “ping” is another wake up call alerting me to the day’s unfolding events, what bills must be paid, and who needs my attention.
I answer teens’ questions about whether their actions could have put them at risk for HIV transmission. I review each question to be sure I “get” what they are saying, reading between the lines especially if English isn’t their first language. After all, they are asking about intimate health matters that seriously impact their futures.
Soon the college interns arrive — my house is used as TeenAIDS’ headquarters. For 20 years I have poured my own resources into this non-profit and I’m okay with that. If you believe as I do that we’re saving young lives, it’s difficult to put a price tag on it (I must spend an exorbitant amount of time raising tax-deductible funds).
I meet with the staff to plan our day’s work. The accounting students have questions about the audit. The social media guru works out a problem with the web team via Skype. The video editors want to go over footage, “Cambodia Countryside Brothel ’02.” I film everything during my Global AIDS Walks and it serves as a visual record and a reminder of youth in harm’s way, always a heart-wrenching experience even years later. “What happened to them?” I ponder.
The phones ring constantly. I actually prefer answering many of them, often a surprise to the caller. I check to see if we can do street outreach. When there’s money in the bank, we pick up HIV test kits. The process of oral swab testing is easy. However, the intensive counseling that’s required takes patience and sensitivity. I say, “ignorance is risk; it’s always better to know.” It’s wonderful when a youth who is worried gets a negative test – just as it’s heartbreaking when someone gets a positive result. My job is to explain that a confirmatory test is needed asap. With medications available, AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was.
Evening comes, the young people head home and I have the quiet time to plan the next challenge. Running a local, national and international organization, staffed by dedicated volunteers is not always easy but it inspires me everyday. I sleep well.