Guyanese AIDS-service and human-rights organisations join with our regional partners in the Vulnerable Communities Coalition to commend leaders of marginalized groups. These groups carry a disproportionate burden of the AIDS epidemic and yet they are often not given adequate attention in national AIDS programmes. As World AIDS Day 2008 is observed under the theme of “Leadership,” we recognize the invaluable contributions of our ‘everyday leaders’ from across the Caribbean who represent and serve these vulnerable populations, even in the face of stigma and discrimination. We salute them for their vigour and valour as they work tirelessly to protect the human rights of those infected and affected by HIV. They are true promise keepers to stop AIDS in , the rest of the Caribbean and the world.
Local Co-Sponsoring Organisations:
Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC)
Juncata Juvant Friendly Society (JJFS)
Guyana Rainbow Foundation (Guybow)
Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD)
The Network of Guyanese Living with and Affected by HIV and AIDS (G+)
World AIDS Day Celebration of Community Leadership
“Lead – Deliver – Empower”
IN keeping with the World AIDS Day theme of “Leadership,” we are celebrating the
leadership by members of vulnerable communities who are part of the Caribbean
Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) family. Mindful that it is ideal that leadership
comes from the groups we work with, in our context this is not easy and means the leaders
risk stigma and discrimination by taking a stand for their community. This World AIDS Day
we are therefore commending their bravery and commitment to a world without AIDS and a
Caribbean where social justice is a reality.
Elias Ramos – Leadership for Youth
Addressing their vulnerability is not easy for young people, but especially for young people
from marginalised groups. In the Dominican Republic, 24-year old Elias Ramos is a leader of
a new youth strategy by and for young people. “Jovenes de la Vida Real” (in English,
YurWorld or Youth in the Real World) is a project by COIN in the Dominican Republic that
targets marginalized youth to increase their resilience to HIV.
Elias explains how the young people at YurWorld are finding solutions:
Marginalized youth are a vulnerable population with complex needs. In light of this,
sustainable prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS amongst marginalized youth
requires empowering them to act and bring about change in their own terms at the
individual as well as the collective level.
He believes that an effective response takes more than disease specific interventions and
includes broader development strategies. This approach is championed by YurWorld which
encourages change through employment and cultural values, ownership of assets, and
political and civil opportunities that empower marginalized youth.
Ionie Whorms – Leadership for Drug Users
It is an early morning and the film crew is setting up their equipment in the neighbourhood
of Fletcher’s Land, Kingston, Jamaica. Residents come out to hail and support a woman who
has become their heroine doing yet another television interview. She has become Jamaica’s
leading advocate for crack cocaine users, herself in recovery for the past 15 years. This time
she is on set for the filming of Complex Problems, Simple Solutions, the documentary on
access to HIV treatment for women and men who are homeless substance users. Complex
Problems, Simple Solutions, a collaboration between CVC and the Caribbean Treatment
Action Group produced by the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC),
is also released as part of the broadcast media package for World AIDS Week, distributed
throughout the region by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership. This is yet another
one of her avenues for advocating for the rights of this vulnerable community.
She is Ionie Whorms, whose work is built on the conviction that she would not want anyone
else to go through what she went through when she was on crack cocaine.
“It really bothers me to see lives been wasted away in this manner” she confesses
“and so I must do anything possible to stop it.”
That “anything” about which she speaks ranges from taking a meal to those who are
homeless to transporting others to health centres, being part of a civil society response to
substance use and advocating for policy change. She considers these to be simple solutions
to complex things.
Nigel Mathlin – Leadership for Gay Men
Men who have sex with men in the Caribbean region are said to be invisible and hard to
reach for HIV interventions. Nigel Mathlin has engaged the response to HIV in a manner that
proves that does not have to be the case.
He is engaged in arranging activities for the gay, lesbian and bisexual population in his home
county of Grenada through GrenCHAP, the local AIDS-prevention community-based
organisation of which he is a co-founder. But his work has not stopped at home. He is also
integrally involved in the sub-regional and regional movements through the OECS-based
Caribbean HIV/AIDS Partnership (CHAPS) and CVC respectively. No longer can it be said that
leaders for this community cannot be found neither can it be said that this population is not
taking its own action.
Miriam Edwards – Leadership for Sex Workers
“This is our profession, we must stand up and protect our rights” boomed the
confident voice from across the room to the applause of the thirty other male and
female sex workers gathered for a national consultation of sex workers in
The speaker is Miriam, sex worker organiser and a leader in the Caribbean sex work
After seeing many persons die from HIV infection and nursing her own sister on her death
bed, Miriam is intent that HIV awareness among sex workers must be heightened in the
region. That led her to found a local Guyana organisation called “One Love” and later to co-
found the regionally-based Caribbean Sex Work Coalition and then Guyana’s national
organisation of sex workers, Guyana Sex Work Coalition. At any given time Miriam can be
seen in training session for sex workers, distributing condoms and safer sex material, visiting
those living with HIV in the hospitals or their homes and advocating at the national, regional
and international levels for the rights of sex workers and other marginalised groups in the Caribbean.
Donna Snagg – Leadership for Involuntary Remigrants
Throughout the Caribbean there is a profound misconception of members of our societies
who have experienced deportation, to the point of them now being labelled and
depersonalised as “deportees.” This label overshadows who these persons really are and
their potential to contribute to society. Often lost in a system that is unaccommodating and
hostile, the associations with the label “deportee” in many respects deflects attention from
the violations of their basic human rights that are commonplace.
Human rights activist and stalwart Mrs. Donna Snagg had the experience of being deported
from the USA approximately ten years ago but has used that encounter to mobilize other
persons with similar experiences in her home country of Guyana. So important are these
issues to her that she founded the Juncata Juvant Friendly Society, an NGO that caters for
the needs of involuntary remigrants. The organisation’s focus is also to assist this population
to reintegrate into Guyanese society and empowering them to be self sufficient. Added to
that, Donna and the other members of Juncata Juvant recognize the challenges this group of
persons encounter and their vulnerability to HIV. This inspires their activities and the
conviction that with the right support they can overcome these hurdles with dignity and
Nicholas Morgan – Leadership for Vulnerable Children
For Nicholas Morgan the maxim “we are all living in a world with HIV” has a new and
different meaning. From as young as 11 years old he accompanied his mother on her
volunteer efforts with a Jamaican AIDS organisation. What he saw then was so deeply
imprinted on his young mind that he immediately busied himself with providing support to
orphans and other children living with HIV.
Defying the age barrier, his early efforts were centred on baby-sitting children living with the
virus. He helped them with their homework and with such ordinary tasks as learning to ride
a bicycle, playing computer games and just general things that children like to do. It is those
“ordinary” tasks that gave way to extraordinary ones such as becoming one of the Panos
Caribbean youth journalists and being editor of their newsletter called “Our Own Voices.”
His voice is stamped on their public service announcements for radio and he is also one of
the mentors to other children in the programme. All this is in determined fulfilment of his
desire to make lives better for orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV. To
Nicholas, we are all equal, we are all affected. He believes firmly that:
it is up to those who have the power, the influence to make a difference in the lives
of young people, to help not only those who are infected or affected but to those
who we can help to remain aware and to make informed decisions.