by Casey Douma

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito” –African Proverb.

I discovered this proverb before my trip with AIDSTanzania and it really came to light for me during this experience. Sometimes you feel so small and so ineffectual in the face of such grave challenges. In these moments you just have to force yourself to reflect and understand that huge, sweeping changes are unrealistic and that these trips are just the beginning.

Dr. Seuss in the Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” These trips are a part of our journeys to become active and global citizens, sometimes it’s not always about the first trip. It’s being able to look forward to the next trips, and creating sustainable change.

Something I thought about a lot during my first trip with AIDSTanzania was how to define the root causes of HIV within the Imbaseni village. It is so difficult to isolate this disease, which is often swept under the rug. It can be difficult to bring HIV into the light because it is not widely discussed. Individuals who are HIV positive are still blamed and cannot discuss these health issues in the public arena. Something that became painfully obvious to me was the differential in women and men, even with how they learn about HIV. Men can ask questions and not be judged but women have to fight to ask questions. It is difficult because HIV, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, predominately affects women, so shouldn’t women be the ones asking the questions? This has created a new focus for me that I hope we can continue with the next few trips; how can HIV/AIDs education empower women?

This trip has created an entirely new academic focus for me, I have always been interested in public health and health related topics but through this trip I have been able to see how many things make up a health crisis. And HIV within this community is a health crisis; everyone is either infected or affected by HIV/AIDs. It is so interesting to discover how health is interconnected with everything.

Of course I loved this trip for so many reasons, my awesome team, and the wonderful community I got to experience; but for me this trip was so valuable because I knew it was just the beginning. I have the next three years to refine the trip and plan with the community to create a more lasting and sustainable change.