This September, I will be moving to Belize for a year to volunteer for The Cornerstone Foundation, a local non-profit organization founded and run by women. Upon my acceptance as a volunteer intern in their HIV/AIDS department, I received a letter outlining reasonable expectations all volunteers should have before arriving. The bottom line was: As a non-profit, the organization is extremely short on resources. Don’t expect much.
Hardly discouraged by these words, I have decided to raise money before I arrive so that I will be able to start a free HIV testing clinic in the local community. As of right now, the only testing site available in the entire Cayo District of Belize is at the local hospital in San Ignacio (which, to give you an idea of their capabilities, has only 15 beds). Having volunteered at the emergency department of my community hospital and at Planned Parenthood, I know that hospitals and doctors’ offices can be both intimidating and scary… and even scarier if you think you might be HIV-positive!
My goal is to develop a neutral testing site within the community that is geared towards young women, the highest at-risk population. With the new rapid test technology requiring only a cheek swab, the testing process is easy, painless, and quick. It is, however, expensive at about $12.50 per test. Additional costs include incentives for being tested, such as a free t-shirt or ice cream cone, and office supplies needed to advertise the testing site. In preparation for the clinic, I am training to become CTR (Counseling, Testing, and Referral) certified, and I’m attending a workshop on rapid HIV test administration.