Working in health communication in a developing nation, where resources are always limited is always a challenge which encourages creativity as the solution. As Communications Officer for the National AIDS Committee (NAC), my role went far beyond ensuring visibility of the organization’s work. I was charged to make an impact on the lives of persons living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) in Jamaica through communication.
The National HIV/STI programme (the parent organization) highlighted the need to use more social media to target PLWHA. At around the same time, I was finishing up the redesign of the NAC website. Although I had opened social media pages for the NAC, I felt we needed to find some mechanism for PLWHA to tell their stories publicly without fear of being stigmatized. This, I felt, could create more understanding and support among Jamaicans while at the same time providing an avenue for HIV advocacy at the policy level. I went ahead and included a section for blogging on the NAC website.
1. Capacity Challenge
That was the easy part. When speaking to the head representative for PLWHA in Jamaica so as to start engaging the population for blogging, he let me know that the community’s capacity to blog was low. We quickly realized that “Blog Workshops” could not only help build capacity to blog, but also to advocate.
2. Funding Challenge
The next question was how would I find funds to have these workshops. I found venues which were free and private through partner agencies. I quickly did proposals to the Pan American health Organization and the Ministry of Health for funding to cover materials and food. We received enough funds for low budget workshops.
The workshop for PLWHA was carried out and was a success resulting in over 15 first entries on the NAC website and weekly entries to follow.
3. Another Capacity Challenge
We expanded the concept to other vulnerable populations and had another blog workshop with HIV positive Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). At this workshop I quickly discovered that there was a literacy challenge among some of the men recruited. Needless to say, literacy is a basic requirement of a blogger.
Discussing it privately with the head of the organization for Gays and Lesbians in Jamaica, we decided to approach it by using teams to tell stories. Those that we unable to write, told their stories to their teammate, who would then write it for them. Those without computers or internet gave me their blogs hand written, and I typed and uploaded the blogs on their behalf.
I cannot take credit for always having the right answer for every challenge, but what I have learned through this experience was the value of really listening to those who you are trying to serve. This way, you are assured greater success in any intervention.