Guest Author - Jason P. Ruel
In the battle on AIDS, there are men and women on the front lines fighting to keep the disease from spreading and also fighting to help the people who have contracted the disease. There are all kinds of groups out there supporting the war on AIDS, prevention, treatment, and so forth. One of these groups on the minority side is Life Force.
Life Force began many years ago when 19 women decided to commit to making sure people stay HIV infection-free. They wanted to effect a change in not only themselves, but others. They wanted to change the attitudes concerning sex and disease and wanted to ensure that others were protected from the disease they have and others were catching.
“The mission of Life Force is to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS and to address the other broad range of health care issues of women of color particularly in Brooklyn, NY. Building upon over a decade of leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS we educate, empower, advocate for and provide support services to women and their families. Life Force's programmatic model emphasizes peer-led initiatives and works to identify and mobilize the unique resources of the communities it serves. “
They recruit women who are part of the community, whether that community be the actual HIV+ community or the community affected by the virus. They support and train their recruits to be counselors and peer educators. These women are the backbone of Life Force and are there to help keep people from becoming infected, or if they are infected, help them to know that they are not alone and will always have someone there to support them to the very end. While not all of the Life Force women are positive themselves, what makes their program work is the fact that they use their own stories, their own lives, as tools to help change the attitudes of those they come in contact with. It is through the sharing of their stories, their lives, that they effect change and hopefully stop the spread of the infection, and if not, then help the women come to terms with the disease and to never stop fighting it no matter what.
“Life Force draws upon the strength and experience of women who are HIV positive themselves or are caring for loved ones with the virus. These HIV infected or affected women seize the opportunity to help others learn about preventing HIV infection and through Life Force they gain support from other HIV positive women, self-confidence and added purpose and meaning in their lives. These women become incredibly powerful educators as they go back into the communities from which they came and teach essential safer sex and risk reduction education. Through sharing their personal stories of AIDS, along with accurate and up-to-date information, the message hits home.”
Their mission, since 1989, has been to ”decrease the incidence of HIV in Brooklyn areas at high risk for infection, [being] realized through recruiting and training women from communities of traditionally under served populations to educate, empower, advocate for, and provide support services to other HIV/AIDS infected and affected women and their families, and those at risk for HIV infection.” According to their website, Life Force has trained a total of 127 women and adolescents as peer educators and health educators. Not all of these women are still with the group. Many have lost the battle with the virus, others have moved out of the area, and then some have moved on to different careers.
No matter what has happened, you have to take a moment and recognize that these women are the soldiers on the front lines. They are there in the streets fighting to change attitudes, to educate, and to protect. They give their life force to fighting this disease, and they make a difference. Recently, Life Force had to lay off some of it’s women due to funding problems. Many in government are getting the lax attitude that AIDS is under control. It’s not, and groups like Life Force depend on that funding to spread hope… hope not only that one day we will win the battle against the virus, but hope that even if the battle is not won, there will always be someone there who knows what you are going through and will be there to the bitter end.
Jason P. Ruel
BellaOnline's Gay Lesbian and HIV/AIDS Editor