WILLOW Women On the HIV Front Lines
By Jacqueline Peters | April 21, 2016
Logistics Specialist & WILLOW Trainer, ETR
I am an excited and fortunate woman. I recently completed the process to become a Certified Trainer for the WILLOW program. I’m meeting some incredible people and being given the opportunity to make a genuine difference in the HIV prevention effort. And after my experiences so far, I know one thing for certain. In WILLOW, people have stories to tell.
What is WILLOW?
The WILLOW Intervention (Women Involved in Life Learning from Other Women) is a social-skills building intervention for adult women living with HIV. It is an educational and information intervention, not a counseling or therapy session. Sessions usually involve 8 to 10 women. WILLOW provides information to increase participants’ knowledge about basic life and health issues—information they need to live healthfully as women with HIV/AIDS.
WILLOW also provides skills in a variety of areas that empower women to protect themselves and their partners and make more effective life decisions. It supports choices that will positively affect the women’s sexual health, relationships and overall well-being.
How Did I Get Here?
I joined ETR’s Community Impact Solutions Program (funded by CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention) in July2014. I was hired to provide administrative support to team members. A series of fortunate occurrences propelled me to attend a 2-day training in our Oakland office in March 2015. This set the clock ticking towards my WILLOW training in Atlanta a year later. There, along with two other trainers, I conducted my first WILLOW Training of Facilitators session. The group of women taking the training was diverse, knowledgeable, delightful and fun.
To say I am excited about this accomplishment does not fully express my feeling. More than anything else, I am extremely proud of having completed the requirements and grateful that I’ve obtained my WILLOW Trainer’s Certificate from the CDC.
How is WILLOW Making a Difference?
Through the WILLOW intervention, the CDC is expanding the cadre of facilitators in HIV high-impact communities nationwide. This is the only CDC intervention targeting adult women living with HIV.
Women who participate find ways to expand their social support network. They join a safe place to openly discuss their issues. I think for everyone, the most gratifying aspects of the sessions are the “Aha!” moments the women experience. They learn about risky sexual behaviors. They become better able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships. They get to learn from a Peer Facilitator—a woman with HIV herself—with whom they can identify. She encourages the women to make constructive, affirming changes in their health and relationship behaviors.
It’s an honor to join the CDC WILLOW Trainer’s Corps. Currently there are five groups of trainers conducting the Training of Facilitators course in the United States. For me, it is a privilege and a blessing to be among this group. It gives me a sense of pride knowing I have an opportunity to make a difference in contributing to our national HIV prevention efforts.
Inspiration and Amazement
During the recent training in Atlanta, I was amazed and encouraged by the trainee facilitators. We had a lively and diverse group of women who were passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated to the work they do. They could not wait to get back to their communities to share the information they learned!
The group included WILLOW facilitators, program evaluators, mental health counselors and community outreach workers. It included HIV-positive, HIV-negative and both cis- and transgender women. They shared their front line knowledge with each other. These women gave me and my co-facilitators compelling, real-world examples to share in our future training sessions.
This has been a powerful experience for me. But mine is only one story. There is so much more to learn from this incredible group!
That’s why I’ve asked two of the participants and one of my fellow trainers to share something about their experiences—what motivates them, how they feel their work with WILLOW helps them make a difference, and what it means to them to be involved in this work.
We’ll hear from them in parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series.