amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

GMT Grantee Profile

Fondation SEROvie (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)

Helping MSM meet basic needs to help prevent HIV

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Strategies

  • Focusing on health and rights
  • Providing life skills and vocational training to combat poverty among MSM
  • Mitigating multiple barriers and helping with rehabilitation in a post-disaster zone
  • Responding to people’s most pressing safety and survival needs

In a small courtyard in Port-au-Prince, the staff and volunteers of Fondation SEROvie work under the protection of five tents. The tents have taken the place of SEROvie’s modest office building, which was reduced to rubble in the devastating Haiti earthquake of January 2010. Since then, the team at SEROvie, like so many other Haitians, has learned to carry on despite profound hardship.

For years, says SEROvie’s executive director, Steeve Laguerre, the organization has been “the sole institution in Haiti providing services to MSM, bisexual men, and transgender people.” The organization has a dual focus on health and rights, seeking to empower its clients to break a cycle of discrimination, poverty, and HIV infection. To do this, it has used a variety of approaches—from condom distribution and radio shows to anti-discrimination programs in schools and peer education on the street. Some peer educators also conduct home-based care visits during which they provide basic food and hygiene supplies to people living with HIV and teach family members to care for them. These efforts are greatly needed: the country’s overall adult HIV prevalence is 2.2 percent.* Equally troubling, no government or independent studies have provided a reliable estimate of HIV infection among MSM, although anecdotal evidence reported by HIV service providers in Haiti suggests high rates.
 

Haiti
Staff and clients of SEROvie. The group’s banner reads, “Everyone should be able to live his life with respect and dignity.” (Photo: SEROvie)
 

Even before the earthquake, the team at SEROvie was keenly aware that providing HIV information was not always enough. Many clients were living in profound poverty, and the staff knew that some men felt they had no choice but to engage in risky transactional sex in order to obtain even the barest necessities. With this in mind, the organization developed a vocational training program that gives young MSM the skills and knowledge to support themselves and ultimately reduce their risk of HIV infection. The vocational program finds appropriate schools for its clients, helps pay for uniforms and fees, and maintains close contact to ensure that they successfully complete their training. So far, clients have received training in disciplines such as cooking, computer technology, and even driving, all of which are viable pathways to steady work and income in Haiti. That income has practical outcomes—it keeps the men away from commercial sex work and helps them gain access to healthcare—as well as the more indirect benefits of strengthening the clients’ sense of hope and self-efficacy. One group of men who completed the program all found work soon after.

In the wake of the earthquake, SEROvie has drawn on its depth of experience in order to reassemble and help its clients. Mr. Laguerre says they were able to do this quickly because of the organization’s reputation as a trusted member of the community. “It’s important to know that we do not impose,” he says. “We work with the community. We ask them what they want.” In the past, that included developing programs such as vocational training that responded to clients’ most pressing needs. Today, it means helping many people with bare necessities: food, water, shelter, and safety. According to Laguerre, prior to the quake “we were not doing education on how to treat water. But now we are doing these basics for the guys, providing mosquito nets, teaching how to clean water and keep your living space clean.” Since January 2010, there has been a rise in violence and harassment against MSM. In the tent cities, for example, some men who appear more effeminate have been regularly harassed and denied access to rations. Others have been physically assaulted or raped. SEROvie has further expanded its focus to address these new threats to MSM, acting as advocates in support of improved safety and security.


* UNAIDS/WHO. Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV and AIDS, Haiti, 2008 Update. Accessed on May 4, 2010.  

 

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