By Ayn N. Whyte, MS—Diné | March 14, 2017
STD/HIV/AIDS Prevention Program Manager, Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board
As many of our communities prepare to recognize National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I am compelled to honor the group of individuals who envisioned and made this day a reality. I am blessed to work today with many of these people in raising awareness and promoting testing among our people.
It has been almost seven years since I started working at the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board. Positions that I’ve held previously, although important and meaningful, never included the level of partnerships and collaborations of the work that I am currently doing.
The theme for the 2017 National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is “Unity in Community.” We can truly achieve U.N.I.T.Y. by incorporating Understanding, Nurturing, Innovation, Trust and Youth into the work that we do.
We immerse ourselves as much as possible in the communities we work with so we have a well-defined understanding of their needs and resources. We demonstrate our commitment to working with each of them to raise awareness and promote testing. We make every effort to meet in person with our partners so we become familiar and see firsthand the layout of their community.
We must nurture our relationships with the communities we serve. As we strengthen these partnerships, we gradually become a resource and, all being well, we become part of the community. We then play a role that should only benefit the people. We are often asked, “How does one make connections in a tribal community to offer services?” Our response always begin with asking if they are prepared to invest the time and effort to begin to build and foster a relationship that will withstand time. Our communities deserve more than just temporary alliances.
Our approach should include respecting best practices to meet the needs of the community, while also striving to be innovative. We have the ability to be ground-breaking. I have witnessed some remarkable “out-of-the-box” thinkers and doers. They continue to break down the stigma to raise awareness about HIV and encourage people to get tested. Their style focuses more on being sociable, and less on clinical methods. This creates pathways for HIV information and testing to be accessed.
Our work cannot be effective and meaningful if those we serve do not trust us. This is not an instant occurrence. We must be consistent and truthful. We must only offer what we know we are capable of delivering over a time period that the community determines. This is how trust is earned. A relationship worth having must include trust. Every day is about growing in trust with the communities we serve.
The involvement of our young people is so crucial to “Getting to Zero”—zero new HIV infections. Youth play a vital role in our community and must have a voice. Weaving youth into every aspect of raising awareness and promoting testing will ensure the efforts of the past and present lead us into the future. We cannot make decisions for them without them. Our experiences in embracing our young people have only advanced the work that we are doing.
I am grateful to be among so many committed, creative and resourceful individuals. The relationships that were built by my predecessor and mentor, Ms. Marie Kirk, Isleta Pueblo, and the relationships I have the honor of nurturing with our fierce young warriors, continue to positively impact our program efforts in the southwest. As Indigenous people, we thrive and are effective when we exist in a community. Let us remain in Unity for our Community!
Ayn N. Whyte, MS—Diné is the STD/HIV/AIDS Prevention Program Manager for the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board. She can be reached at email@example.com.