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Help fight global AIDS: numerous volunteer vacation programs let you lend a hand to people with HIV in the developing world.

The numerous problems relating to HIV in the world's poor countries--the lack of affordable drugs, the crippling of nations' workforces, the creation of orphan generations--have been on the tips of notable tongues from Bush to Blair to Bono, but what can we as travelers do about them? "International solidarity," says gay South African activist Zackie Achmat, "should not be limited to demonstrations against Bush and [drug] profiteering. It should extend to volunteer work in clinics and hospitals and communities."

For adventurers seeking heightened intimacy and meaning in the global fight against HIV, short- and long-term volunteer vacations are the answer, combining the idealism of the Peace Corps and the human drama of The Real World Volunteers' home bases are "maybe not as fancy as the ones on MTV," says Quinn Sidon, senior manager of recruiting and alumni development at international volunteer titan Cross-Cultural Solutions. At these basic home bases, motivated humanitarians of all ages bond through common passions and trials. Volunteers work half- to full-day shifts at various nonprofits, with their experience supplemented by language lessons, cultural enrichment (visits to Mayan ruins, lectures by a local monk), and some travel. A flat fee covers most expenses.

Combating the pandemic ravaging the world is not for the fainthearted, though, as emotional challenges are par for the course--in hospice and health care work, the suffering and death of some patients are to be expected. Trips run by nonprofits might include tasks like nursing kids in Brazilian or South African hospices, training Tanzanian teen prevention activists, or assisting organizations such as Solas y Unidas, a Peruvian advocacy group for HIV-positive women. "These agencies and initiatives--they're sustainable," says Sidon, whose first assignment included HIV prevention among Thai truck drivers. "It's not a shot in the arm. We're working with their infrastructure. All of our in-country staff are locals." For example, Peruvian gay rights activist Enrique Bossio, as the Cross-Cultural Solutions country director, masterminds all the organization's projects there, including those for HIV.

The autonomy, openness, and respect Sidon stresses are key to stemming this global epidemic (and to volunteering, period), but gays and lesbians are not always welcome in the given country of an AIDS trip, so ask the organization directly about it. Global Crossroad (which offers volunteer work in 20 countries, including South Africa, where gay rights are constitutionally protected) can't accommodate out queer couples "due to the mores of the host country," explains the agency's Latin America program manager, Dana Oliver. "In most developing countries ... sexual activity of this nature is strictly prohibited." U.N. Volunteers doesn't discriminate, however, and CCS welcomes gays. "During my first couple of weeks in Peru," says former volunteer Kristin Lukasik, who traveled with her female partner, "I was encouraged when [Bossio's] partner came to the house to talk about Peru's history. I was also fortunate to meet a lesbian teacher who provided many insights into GLBT life in Peru."

Sidon concurs. "A lot of gay people are drawn to this work. It's that kind of crowd."

HIV VOLUNTEER VACATIONS ORGANIZERS

Cross-Cultural Solutions, 800-380-4777

Global Service Corps, 415-788-3666, Ext. 128

International Volunteer Program, 510-433-0414

i-to-i Ventures, 800-985-4864

Treatment Action Coalition, 011-27-21-788-3507

U.N.Volunteers Programme, 011-49-228-815-2000
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Title Annotation:TRENDS
Author:Pareles, Marissa
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 8, 2005
Words:529
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