Shannon Hervey's student, Clare Moffatt, spent her summer working with the West Africa AIDS Foundation on HIV/AIDS projects. Here's what she had to say about that experience and its connection to her work in PWR:
This summer I spent nine weeks living in Northern Ghana, where I worked on HIV/AIDS projects in partnership with the West Africa AIDS Foundation. I was supported by the African Service Fellowship from Stanford University. My experience was enriching and rewarding. It challenged me to make a sustainable impact in a diverse Ghanaian culture.
Stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV (PLHIV) is a leading issue in Northern Ghana. PLHIV are often treated as pariahs, leading them to conceal their HIV status or default on their antiretroviral therapy. Education is a powerful tool to combat stigma and also encourage testing and prevention. One of my projects involved educational outreaches where I traveled across the region by motorcycle to remote rural areas. I visited schoolchildren, agricultural processing teams, vocational training centers, seamstress shops and young men’s leadership collectives. I was working in a cultural context that was devoutly religious and highly traditional. Mention of ‘safe sex’ elicited whispers and nervous glances. Many Northern communities also have strong undercurrents of gender inequality. Women can be seen as subservient to men and men often have several wives. These combined dynamics made it challenging to recommend safe sex and sexual empowerment as HIV prevention methods, especially to women. How could I connect and communicate on this highly sensitive, critical topic?
I was excited to draw upon the skills I developed and sharpened in my Stanford PWR 2 class taught by Dr. Shannon Hervey. The class gave me extensive practice in thoughtfully presenting and negotiating controversial issues. My final research project involved critiquing the use of censorship techniques by college activists. Since many of my college classmates were activists themselves, I balanced my argument with support of the roots of activist causes in order to persuasively convey my thesis. I applied the same nuanced approach in Northern Ghana and used my PWR-practiced presentation skills to convey my messages clearly but with compassion.
As an outsider, it is not my position to enter communities and judge or change traditional polygamous practices, even though it is a high-risk setup for HIV transmission. I worked alongside the culture and suggested strategic behavioral changes. For example, I appealed to women that to protect their families and future children, they should get tested for HIV, especially upon entering a new marriage, and insist their husbands do the same.
When I visited schools, I initiated girls’ empowerment sessions in addition to my main HIV presentation. I led discussions that emboldened female students to see themselves as important stakeholders in their communities, contrary to social dynamics. I encouraged them to take ownership of their sexual and reproductive health and say ‘no’ to unwanted advances. I welcomed teachers and nurses to participate, which lent community support to some of my ideas that pushed conventional boundaries. I was moved when one young student approached me afterwards. She had assumed it was impossible to be both a mother and community leader, but now she is excited to graduate, start a family and one day become a local member of parliament.
One of Kathleen Tarr's PWR 2 students, Emma Mathers took the theme of the class (The Rhetoric of Giving a Damn) to heart and took a leave of absence to go to the Greek Island of Lesvos to work on the front lines of the Syrian refugee crisis. As she wrote, "I am so passionate about this cause, and I finally decided that I was going to do something about it."
Read on for more about how she has translated her commitment to this cause into real work action:
Since January, I have been in Greece working with humanitarian NGOs and providing aid to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees that are fleeing the ongoing civil war. I spent two months on Lesvos, coordinating boat arrivals on the northern shores and working in the main registration camp on the island. I then spent a month working at the Greek-Macedonian border, where more than 15,000 refugees have been stranded ever since the border closed more than two months ago. The border camp is 50% children, and there are more than 1,000 refugees under the age of 3. It is a horrific humanitarian disaster and we are all in disbelief that such a thing is happening in 21st century Europe.
I am now headed to Lebanon to work with the more than 500,000 refugees living in make-shift settlements near the Syrian border. The terrible situation in Europe often receives a lot more mainstream attention, but Lebanon is facing a huge refugee crisis of its own and needs just as much, if not more, help. I’m going to work with an NGO called Salam to establish and sustain education programs for children, housing and shelter initiatives, and clothing and food distributions.
Read more about Emma's work in this May article from the Stanford Daily.