Thursday, July 3, 2008
By: Abdullah Kiatamba
The Brooklyn United Methodist Church (BUMC) launched a massive campaign in June to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among Liberians residing in Minnesota.
Dubbed the Liberian Initiative for Transformation (LIFT), the three-month long project runs through August and is designed as a community-centered initiative, allowing for individuals and groups in MinnesotaвЂ™s West African community to participate in the design and implementation of the programs.
вЂњThe project is in response to efforts aimed at fighting against the further spread of HIV/AIDS, especially in minority communitiesвЂќ said Richmond Tobii, the coordinator of the project.
BUMCвЂ™s efforts are expected to cover volunteer training workshops, resource sharing, screening of inspiring and educational HIV documentary clips, distribution of fact sheets, ethnic-centered publicity blitz, amongst several other outreach activities.
Tobii said the group intended to conduct вЂњthese culturally-sensitive activitiesвЂќ through special events, musical concerts, sports tournaments, and a host of other appealing means.
An impressive list of faith-based, grassroots, community, and social organizations has committed to ensuring the success of the project.
вЂњBUMC is certainly suited to coordinate this project, because it has built and maintained the relationships needed to generate a wider community participation,вЂќ said Pastor Francis O. Tabla of Ebenezer Community Church.
A recent report by the Minnesota Department of Health, the вЂњHIV/AIDS Surveillance ReportвЂќ showed that the number of new HIV infections has increased among all state demographics including African-born immigrants. According to the report, minority groups in Minnesota account for 49% of all reported HIV/AIDS cases, although they represent less than 10% of the overall stateвЂ™s population.
вЂњWe intend to work as hard as we possibly can to make sure that we create awareness about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, involve multi-ethnic volunteers as role models and facilitators, and increase family involvement in this age-appropriate process,вЂќ Tobii said during a weekend soccer tournament, where participating teams wore LIFTвЂ™s HIV/AIDS campaign T-shirts to demonstrate their support for the project.
In a related development, BUMC organized a volunteer training workshop on June 15 in Brooklyn Park. The workshop, which brought together about 20 volunteers, was the first in a series of events planned to kick off the project.
The workshop highlighted testing, faithfulness in relationships, and using latex condoms as ways to prevent the spread of HIV. The workshopвЂ™s facilitator, Wynfred Russell, who has written extensively about HIV in the African immigrant community, said HIV testing was available at a number of clinics and hospitals. Studies, he continued, have shown that people who know their HIV status are more likely to protect themselves and others from infection.
вЂњHIV in our community is being largely driven by men who, for the most part, are exposing their female partners to the disease,вЂќ Russell said. вЂњOf course, this risky behavior is not limited to men; there are a number of women that indulge in playing the field. But, men are in the forefront of this dangerous practice.вЂќ