Pushing Comfort Zones: GSC HIV/AIDS Programs Confront Harmful Stigmas, Even Amongst Participants

Inevitably, Global Service Corps volunteers who go to projects focused on HIV/AIDS issues do so because they want to make a helpful contribution to the plight of people impacted by this dangerous virus. Good intentions don’t necessarily mean we don’t come with our own fears, boundaries, and comfort zones. A GSC International Health participant confronted his fears upon arriving at one of our children’s communities:

“When I first pulled into the village, I was scared. It is not every day that I am dealing with dozens of people infected with HIV. I was nervous when the kids first started holding my hand and jumping all over me.”

Matthew L., Cambodia International Health Program, 2009

Stigma and fear surrounding people with HIV causes a myriad of social, emotional and physical health issues on top of those caused by the virus itself. GSC HIV/AIDS programs aim not just to prevent infection and improve the well-being of the infected, but also to address these harmful misperceptions about how the virus spreads. Clearly, even volunteers sent to do this work can still have concerns for their safety and health that they perhaps did not realize before being in the moment. Luckily, the human face of the virus, and the reality that the work GSC does with HIV positive people does not place participants at risk of infection, helps to quickly dissipate their anxiety, so that they can focus on the work at hand.

“However, this tension soon passed. All of the kids take ARV medications, and fortunately, the drugs dilute the virus in the bloodstream and make it very difficult to infect others, even if exposed.”

Matthew L., Cambodia International Health Program, 2009

If you are interested in joining GSC in helping people affected by this virus, but have reservations about your own health while doing so, don’t hesitate to seek out the facts. For your information, HIV spreads through ONLY the following ways:

  • Having sexual intercourse with an infected partner,
  • Through injecting drugs, using a needle or syringe that has been used by someone who is infected,
  • As a baby of an HIV-infected mother, during pregnancy, labor or delivery, or through breastfeeding,

It does NOT spread by spending time with HIV positive people, such as during a GSC health education program. What does spread during these interactions is the courage, education and compassion we all need to be healthy and happy individuals, HIV positive or not.

GSC wants to see a world free of HIV, and a world that treats those infected with dignity and compassion in the meantime. Won’t you join us?

Visit our website to learn more about this program and start your application today.

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