Release date
September 18, 2004

Raising Self-Esteem to Combat HIV and AIDS

September 18, 2004, —

When crossing the Ozama River to enter the city of Santo Domingo, visitors see a colorful, lively neighborhood situated in the low lands along the riverbank. The brightly painted homes, busy marketplace, and children playing in the street belie the fact that this is one of the capital's poorest and most violent neighborhoods: Los Guandules.

Street in Los Guandules neighborhood.

A typical street scene in Santo Domingo's Los Guandules neighborhood.

Through an innovative approach to HIV prevention, the parish of Domingo Sábio is teaching youth in Los Guandules how to make good life choices. This project brings together approximately 500 school children from the parish, their teachers, their parents and community leaders. "We were concerned about the messages our young people were receiving about sexuality and life choices from the media, so we decided to do something about it right here in our parish," says Rosa, one of the participants involved in the project planning.

How Do We Do This Project and What Are Our Accomplishments To Date?

By focusing on life choices and issues of self-esteem, local high school teachers are hoping to counteract the negative effects of peer pressure and low self-confidence, which lead youth to begin sexual activity at such a young and vulnerable age. Teachers receive input from church leaders, parents and community leaders, which helps engage adults in HIV prevention on a more personal level.

Creative and interactive teaching modules are used to discuss values and principles of good relationships. Such an approach "helps students reflect on their choices and gives them a safe place to field questions and concerns which they might otherwise not discuss," says Catholic Relief Services Health Program Manager Dr. Cándida, who oversees the project.

Since the inception of the project, the community has taken the lead in discussing issues of HIV prevention and AIDS treatment in Los Guandules. Community members have also taken the initiative in providing professional psychological counseling to families affected by HIVand AIDS and have asked CRS for assistance in providing support to orphans and children infected with the disease.

By incorporating the activities of the school and church with the needs of the community, this neighborhood is one whose approach to its own development is holistic, participatory and inspiring.

Background of the Project

The Dominican Republic's HIV infection rate is estimated at over two percent of the population and is rising. Through this project, CRS Dominican Republic is helping to stem the tide of HIV and AIDS in Santo Domingo, and aiding the children who have been affected by it.