by Brenna Anderson
Over winter break, I traveled with a team of seven people to Tanzania to promote HIV/AIDS prevention. We spent ten days in a village an hour away from the Kilimanjaro airport, Arusha. While we spent a year preparing for our journey and learning about the culture of Tanzania, I was definitely not ready for the severity of culture shock I experienced. Because of the sensitive nature of our subject, we had to make sure that we were providing information that would both be useful and socially acceptable in this rural Tanzanian village.
One of the biggest challenges that I personally encountered was that it was hard to visibly see any difference that we made for the community during our ten days there. While we walked many miles and promoted and educated various members of the community on HIV/AIDS, it was hard to remember that I was not going to see a complete societal shift because of our work.
There were, however, two instances that reminded me that despite the fact that we cannot change the world in a day, we could make a real difference in people’s lives. On our fourth day, we held a seminar for teenagers (13-18) who were also taking classes at the compound we were staying at. After we presented all of our information on the prevention and dangers of HIV/AIDS, we opened the floor to questions. For around an hour after the presentation, these kids were asking important and serious questions about HIV, where it comes from, and what they can do to prevent it. While at the time, some of the kids might have seemed young to be learning such detailed information say about the way in which a woman with HIV can have a baby, I realized that this was exactly the age that we needed to be targeting. In America, this is the age in which we are taught of the HIV virus and all of the ways to prevent it, and we grow up with the common knowledge that condoms are the safest way (besides abstinence) to ensure that HIV is not transmitted. If these teenagers in Arusha left that seminar and told even one or two of their friends what they learned, or had even decided that they themselves were going to lead a safe sexual life, I realized we had really done something good.
The day after that seminar, we walked around Arusha publicizing our free HIV testing day. While we were asking people if we could post Tangazos (announcements) on their shops, we met a young man who was probably around our age. He was so enthusiastic about what we had to say and really seemed to understand the severity of the disease and the importance of getting tested and becoming more educated. He promised he would tell everyone to come to our testing day and seminars. His recognition of the severity of HIV/AIDS helped me realize that while it may only be coming in small doses, any difference we make in the Tanzanian community is worth the journey every year.
So, when I came home from ten of the most amazing days of my life in Tanzania, I reflected on the possible change we made. While we may not have seen the scope of the HIV/AIDS epidemic change in a week, if our lessons reached even one person in the community, we are leaving Tanzania a better, more educated, and safer place.