Alejandra Arauz in Panama
You are at sea, and you see an SOS signal from another boat. When you reach it, you realise it is about to sink. There are 13 passengers and crew on the stricken vessel, but your boat can only hold a total of seven people.
On the sinking boat are a variety of people, including the wife of a famous world leader and mother of three; her lover, who is the father of two; an HIV-positive 16-year-old girl; the captain and his son; a nun; a terminally ill boy, a pregnant drug-user.
How do you decide who to save and who to leave to the sharks?
This was the dilemma facing participants at the first regional “Together We Can” workshop for the National Red Cross Societies in Central America.
Part of a peer education HIV/AIDS prevention programme, it began with the training of several facilitators from Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The purpose of the “sinking ship” activity is to help participants identify their own prejudices and talk about how our own personal biases can be discriminatory to persons with other lifestyles, and address the impact of stigma and discrimination.
The Together We Can programme began in Jamaica in 1993 as a collaboration between the Jamaican Red Cross and American Red Cross.
Over the years, the programme has been introduced successfully in many other countries in the Caribbean, and it is recognized as the standard Red Cross peer education methodology in the region.
A year ago, the material was extensively revised and has been translated from English to Spanish, French, Creole and Papiamento.
But what makes this programme so different from others and so widely accepted among young people?
The main reason is that Together We Can is very dynamic and interactive methodology based upon the “peer education” style, where young people are selected and trained to act as information disseminators and agents of behavioural change.
“This workshop had been excellent,” says Efraín De La Torre, an 18-year-old Panamanian Red Cross volunteer. “I learned a lot about issues that I had a wrong concept about before. For example, I used to give speeches about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections to boys and girls and I would just talk and talk. I had no idea of the huge amount of activities and games you can use to transmit the right information,” he says.
The objective of this first regional workshop was to prepare national trainers by developing their communication skills, increasing their knowledge of HIV/AIDS and sexual health, and to teach them how to handle youth groups through interactive activities.
These national trainers will in turn pass on their knowledge of the TWC methodology to other trainers.
During the workshop, the participants also learned how to deal with topics such as gender, stigma and discrimination of persons living with HIV or AIDS, homosexuality and sex workers.
“We encourage the participants to respect the opinions and feelings of others.
In this programme, the person must set aside many of their personal values on questions like religion and sexual preferences, because an important part of this programme deals with issues related to avoiding stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS,” said Glenys Gonzáles, Together We Can regional trainer from the Dominican Red Cross.