A chat with Tara Kenny, Global Awareness Volunteer 2012 before leaving for South Africa
My name is Tara Kenny, I am 29 and originally from Ballincollig, Cork. I am a full time student in UCC and have just finished my second year of International Development and food policy. On the 29th of June I will be heading to a project 10km east of Cape Town to volunteer in a paediatric hospice for children suffering from HIV/AIDS and other life threatening diseases.
In the end of June you are going to South Africa as part of the Global Awareness Programme. How do you feel about that? Is that you first volunteer experience abroad
I have volunteered in Ireland and have done a good bit of travelling in both developed and developing countries but this will be my first time volunteering abroad so I am very excited. I feel very privileged to get the opportunity to volunteer in South Africa as I really didn’t think I would get picked. I am really looking forward to not only the 8 weeks in Cape Town but also the training pre departure and the awareness raising campaign that I will commence upon my return.
Why did you decide to apply for this programme?
I applied for this programme with the hope of improving my knowledge and understanding through experiential learning. HIV/AIDS seems to have fallen off the list of topical issues the last 10 plus years, especially in the Irish media. It is not something that is spoken about by the average Irish person and I can honestly say had it not been for my choice of study it would not be something I would speak about, know about or even think about. The past two years I have developed a basic understanding of the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and how the pandemic is just as much a social issue as a medical one, in both Ireland and Sub Saharan Africa. It is hard to comprehend to broader effects of HIV/AIDS on individuals and communities from books and papers without experiencing it firsthand. So when I discovered this programme I jumped at the chance to participate. The great thing about this particular programme is that the volunteering part is only the beginning.
Which part of the programme are you most looking forward to?
This is changing on a weekly basis, last week I was really looking forward to the visit to open heart house, this week I am looking forward to the pre departure workshop and the training on HIV/AIDS. Overall the opportunity to volunteer in the paediatric hospice and experiencing the South African culture will be the highlight of the programme. I am really looking forward to meeting people affected by HIV/AIDS, hearing their stories and collecting information for my awareness campaign.
What do you hope to learn from this experience and how it will benefit you upon your return to Ireland?
I hope to learn about the social problems tied to HIV/AIDS and how I can contribute to reducing the stigma attached to the pandemic. I hope the experience will enable me to help people in my community understand that with proper care and treatment HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence and that HIV/AIDS is very much an Irish issue also. The experience will benefit me by equipping me with the tools and information to be able to transfer my learnings to people at home.
On your return to Ireland you will be leading an awareness raising campaign. What do you think about making your community more aware of HIV/AIDS issues? How important do you think public action is?
The awareness campaign will probably be the most important part of the programme. In Ireland HIV/AIDS is still very much considered a foreign problem. A lot of people think that if they are not engaging in homosexual relations or injecting drugs then they are safe. I don’t think people realise that HIV is mostly spread through heterosexual relations. So I think public action is crucial to make people aware of the facts. To date there have been 6287 people in Ireland diagnosed with HIV since the 80’s, however the actual number of people living with HIV is not known. In 2010 the CUH were diagnosing 2-3 people a week with HIV ranging from 18 to 70 years of age. In 2009, 235 of the 395 new cases were diagnosed during asymptomatic infection which is worrying considering people can live with the virus for up to 10 years before any symptoms appear. It is important that people realize that HIV is an Irish issue and that anyone from any background and age is at risk. Because there is no cure for HIV/AIDS the only way to manage and reduce the rates is to equip people with information.
Thanks a lot, Tara. We are sure it will be a great experience for you and we are looking forward to hearing more about it.