Collaborative Network of Persons Living with HIV holds Media Meeting

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

C-NET + Belize, the Collaborative Network of Persons Living with HIV in Belize, held its first ever HIV Solidarity day and Media Round Table on Saturday May 12th. The meeting and event took place at the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO) building at #34 Princess Margaret Drive.

The Media Round Table commenced shortly after 4PM with invited members of the media. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce C-NET to the general population, with the aim to reach individuals infected or affected by the HIV Virus and disseminate information that they feel is very important and will contribute to the continued empowerment of individuals living with HIV.

C-NET was initiated by a group of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) with the aim to improve the quality of their lives and those of their peers, through the assistance of REDCA, the Central American Network of Persons Living with HIV. C-NET hopes to accomplish this through various activities which share information pertinent to PLHIV, education and communication. C-NET aims to propel and develop its members’ individual capabilities while promoting a mutual respect for their Human Rights. C-NET + was formed in July of 2011 with the aim of contributing to improving the quality of life of people with HIV in the country and to engage more actively in the national and regional response to HIV -AIDS. Seven people founded the network, which was constituted as the first organization of and for people with HIV in Belize.  On October 14, 15 and 16th 2011, C-NET + held its first General Assembly, which saw dozens of PLHIV from all districts of Belize participating.

President of C-NET, Mr. Eric Castellanos spoke of the purpose of C-NET. Introducing himself, Mr. Castellanos informed that he is a Person Living with HIV for over 15 years. He admitted that at the point of his diagnosis, he was unsure of what the future held for him, however with the organization of C-NET, others living in the country that have become infected with this virus no longer have to feel alone, uncertain or unwanted.

One of the ways C-NET hopes to empower PLHIV is through support groups. Each individual’s experience with their HIV Positive diagnosis is different. C-NET presently holds support groups for PLHIV at various locations within the country, and after proper training of key individuals, hopes to bring such activities country wide. It is the hope that these individuals, once trained as Peer Councilors, will serve as a liaison between testing facilities, service providers and C-NET. The trained individual will be available to newly diagnosed individuals to provide somewhat of a “big brother” service or to already diagnosed individuals needing encouragement, guidance or even assistance in terms of adherence to medications. These councilors will receive continuous training and will play a key role in the dissemination of new information to targeted individuals as it pertains to PLHIV within their various communities.

C-NET, through its parent organization REDCA and with funding from Global Fund, continues its efforts to strengthen the technical capacities of PLHIV, empowering them to strive toward better health, security and dignity; through various activities. One of such activities is a scholarship program being offered by REDCA to all members of C-NET. Through the program, 50 three-year scholarships have been secured for PLHIV in the various Central American countries, including Belize. These scholarships may be used for completion of primary, secondary, tertiary level education or vocational studies. The scholarships will become available in July of this year. Through this initiative, C-NET is also improving the lives of PLHIV through improved employability.

C-NET continues to work hand in hand with organizations such as PASMO; the National Aids Commission NAC; United States Agency for International Development USAID and other programs with the combined objective to strengthen the Central American response to HIV. CNET has three focal points in Belize, Mr. Stephen Diaz, Mr. Eric Castellanos and Ms Adi Mai.

Further to this, a new website, And What Now has been developed by PASMO Belize and recently launched. The site provides an interactive platform for information acquisition for PLHIV, online support group sessions, referrals to organizations for services, chat and answers to frequently asked questions. The site caters to newly diagnosed individuals as well as individuals in search of HIV information.

Following the media presentations on available services through C-NET; the group held its first National Solidarity Day with PLHIV as well as family and friends of PLHIV. The function was a heart warming event filled with testimonials from the three focal points in Belize, of their positive diagnosis and their journey to present. Families and friends cheered on as these brave souls shared their stories of tragedies and successes. HIV/AIDS is something that affects the entire world. It affects individuals dear and close to us and half the time we do not even know their struggles. Most are afraid to reveal their positive status for fear of discrimination, rejection or simply because of the lack of information.

The next time the topic of HIV comes up C-NET encourages individuals to remain optimistic during the conversation. Become informed. Show support. These individuals did not wish to become infected with this disease. Some stories are heart wrenching. An HIV infected individual can be your best friend, your mother, your sister, your brother, an aunt or uncle, your grand parents; it could be the person that you hold so very close, but because of something you might have said in a negative connotation towards a PLHIV can be very hurtful to a who is struggling with the disease.

The Solidarity Day gave individuals the opportunity to share their stories and support for PLHIV as well as their families, friends and individuals that have succumbed to an illness related to the disease. During the course of the evening, snacks and beverages were shared as well as wishes sent to the skies via helium balloons and a candle lighting ceremony of the symbolic red ribbon on the PASMO grounds. For more information on C-NET and the services offered through the organization, please contact Mr. Eric Castellanos at 630-1900 or via email to [email protected].

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