When awareness is combined with sympathy, they always bring tolerance and support.
Friday, the tenth of May was the second part of my HIV/Awareness campaign relating to my project at my small village site in Eastern Ukraine – a rock concert by and for students. The main focus of the work is giving teachers the tools, facts, and strategies necessary for talking to students about sex, narcotics, and ultimately HIV/AIDS. While planning this work, my counterpart and I organized opportunities which expose students to facts, myths, and statistics regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but doing so through events which attract their attention (see also: the previous blog regarding the school dance).
Unfortunately, Inna, my project counterpart has been out of school for nearly three weeks now, including the week leading up to the rock festival, due to health issues. Inna did an excellent job planning and executing the school dance and similarly planned the rock festival. However, I found out the day before she would not be able to attend so I had to first find out where she left off and then pick up from there. Thankfully, my English teaching counterpart Raisa and my school director Zhanna helped me immensely.
The two hour schedule included four student group performances, Simbioz, Anomalia, Fallen Angels, and Cemetery. In between each performance we hoped to show segments of Queen’s benefit performance for HIV/AIDS awareness in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city containing the greatest student population. The video included information about the life and death of Freddie Mercury, facts regarding the epidemic, and Queens performance which was watched by nearly 300,000 Ukrainians in Kharkiv’s square.
Around 4:45 on Friday, fifteen minutes before the start of the concert, few students had arrived to our school’s auditorium. I faced the conflict of the first band starting with barely any audience versus the inability to delay the start by more than a few minutes. Additionally, the auditorium was still well lit from increasingly longer days and I wasn’t sure the film would be visible under such conditions.
Ultimately, we started half an hour late which proved inconsequential. I gave the same speech in Russian from the school dance and then introduced my really good friend Brad Luckhardt. Having studied Russian for several years, he gave a much better, more advanced speech. Brad’s speech follows:
Good evening respected guests,
I thank you all for coming to this evening’s meeting. I want to say a big thank you to Mr. Alan (me), his colleagues, and especially his students for all of their efforts. Some of us here know the facts about the AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. An independent estimate by the United Nations says that in 2007 there were around 400,000 HIV positive people living in Ukraine. In that same year the United Nations believes that around 20,000 people died of AIDS in Ukraine. That statistic is even more frightening because it represents real people who live around us; our neighbors, our friends, and our relatives. We should know that in reality all types of people can have HIV and that being HIV positive doesn’t say anything about a person’s personality.
It is my opinion that the most difficult obstacle in our fight against HIV/AIDS is a lack of awareness. What does that mean? What should we know? Without question we should know how HIV is transmitted and in which ways we can protect ourselves.
Moreover, we should know that a HIV positive mother has a good chance of giving birth to a healthy child, given that she knows her own HIV status and that she does everything possible for the child’s health. Additionally, we should know that if people living with HIV learn about their status early enough, they can live a full life with the help of medicine which, by the way, is available free in Ukraine.
Knowing all of this we can live without fear. This is most important because if we live in fear we cannot support one another. When awareness is combined with sympathy, they always bring tolerance and support.
I hope that events such as our concert this evening will be the first step towards a society in which we can live hand in hand, with mutual support, without fear, regardless of our HIV Status. I wish you good health, a pleasant mood, good listening, and all the very best.
Добрый вечер уважаемые гости! Я благодарю вас всех за то, что вы пришли на нашу сегодняшнюю встречу. Я хочу сказать огромное спасибо Mr. Alan, его коллегам, и особенно его ученикам за все их усилия.
Некоторые из нас знают факты об эпидемии СПИДа в Украине. По независимой оценке ООН в 2007ом году на территории Украины проживало около четырёхсот тысяч ВИЧ-инфицированных людей. В этом же году ООН тоже считает, что около двадцати тысяч погибли из-за СПИДа. Такая статистика страшнее потому, что она представляет настоящих людей, которые живут вокруг нас – наши соседи, наши друзья, и наши родственники. Мы должны знать, что в действительности все категории людей могут иметь ВИЧ, также позитивный ВИЧ статус не говорит ничего о личности человека.
По-моему мнению, самая большая трудность в борьбе с явлением ВИЧ/СПИДом недостаток знаний. А что это значит, что мы должны знать? Однозначно мы должны знать, как ВИЧ передаётся и какими способами можно защищать себя, также мы должны знать что ВИЧ-инфицированная мама имеет все шансы родить здорового ребёнка при условии, что она знает свой статус и делает всё возможное для спасения своего ребёнка. К тому же, если инфицирован человек узнаёт свой статус достаточно рано, с помощью лекарства, которое между прочим выдаётся бесплатно в Украине, он может жить полной жизнью. Зная всё это, мы можем жить без страха. Это главное потому, что если мы живем со страхом, мы не можем поддерживать друг друга. Когда знание соседствует с сочувствием, они всегда привносят толерантность и поддержку.
Я надеюсь, что такие мероприятия как наш концерт являются первым шагом к обществу, где все могут жить рука об руку с поддержкой и без страха, невзирая на их статус. Я желаю вам всем крепкого здоровья, хорошего настроения, приятного слушания и всего всего наилучшего.
The explosion of applause was thunderous at the close of his speech. Brad spoke confidently yet assertively, with a presence that helped illustrate the dire situation Ukraine currently faces. We then watched the first ten minutes of Queen’s televised performance. The teachers in attendance commended the video as it discusses Freddie Mercury’s isolation and fear upon discovering his HIV status. Regrettably, too little time was allotted for the video and I wish we could have watched more than ten minutes.
The students’ performances were great, ranging from rap metal, classic rock, and even some rather epic hard rock. During their performances, some of the group members grabbed the microphone in between their songs to speak what was on their mind regarding HIV/AIDS. This was one of the best parts of the night as I had solicited them to share some words. I felt proud as I watched them speak about HIV/AIDS out of their own free will.
As the students performed, my great friends and fellow volunteers Amber Webb and Marnie Ajello passed out red ribbons to the audience. In addition to those two and Brad, group 35 volunteer Chris McDonald, my site mate Chris Russell, and Curtis Schwieterman were in attendance to support the event.
The many talents of the students in my village can not be overstated. The other volunteers were all impressed with the singing, song writing, and playing abilities of each and every group on the stage. Having played with some of the groups, mostly Sergiy and Marina from Anomalia, I was amazed to see how much their music has progressed in the little time I’ve been here. Another great aspect of the concert was that it provided a free, fun, and positive environment for kids for a few hours after school.
In between the groups, students read information about HIV/AIDS, including myths, ten important facts, and finally a quiz that allowed the audience to display their knowledge. Each group had twenty minutes to perform and they stuck to their word and required only three minutes to set up after the previous group had finished.
The final performance of the night was what my counterpart dubbed “The American Boys,” Curtis Schwieterman and I. We put our years of guitar playing to use and Curtis brought down the house with his smooth and forceful voice. We played Better Together by Jack Johnson, Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, Curtis’ own song Walking in Circles, Redemption Song and No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley, and Northbound 35 by Jeffrey Foucault. One of the best parts during our performance was when I asked in Russian, “Do you know Bob Marley?” and the audience roared. Ukrainians LOVE clapping along and they tried do likewise during our songs, which didn’t really mesh since some of our songs were very mellow and solemn, so it turned into a funny cross cultural moment. We received a more than warm reception and it was truly an amazing opportunity my school was never hesitant in providing. We took many photos and videos and hope to share them with you all when I can.
Ultimately, seven Americans and about 150 Ukrainians were in attendance for the night’s two hour concert. I was proud to see sixth graders to teachers and school alumni and of course especially happy to see my students present. It was the most exciting and personally rewarding thing I’ve done so far and I hope it had some lasting effect.