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January 17, 2014

“I´m black, I´m a woman and I am HIV positive. But I am going to make a difference”

The inspiring Honduran activist and poet, Benita Ramírez (50), tells how she emerged from the shock and despair of her HIV diagnosis to become a leading voice in the fight against AIDS. 
 
Benita was 41-years-old, a mother of four and studying at night to get her secondary school diploma when she received the devastating news that she was HIV positive.
 
benita ramirez poet honduras
Benita Ramirez, 2013. Photo: Gerardo Aguilar
 
“During this stage, I told myself: and now…? What is going to happen to me? But, why me? I’m not a prostitute! I watched how other patients died in the room of the hospital and that affected me more. For me, AIDS was a synonym of death.”
 
“In that moment I had no idea about what HIV was and its meaning in my life. I did not want to know anything, my self-esteem was low. I was a devastated woman and from that point, my life would change 360 degrees.”
 
After several months in hospital, Benita then began receiving home visits by two women volunteers Trudys and Lilia, both HIV positive. 
 
“In those moments of denial, I pretended I was sleeping. I didn’t want to about anybody. But their support was crucial in my recovery. And since then, my adherence has been very good.” 
 
Through these critical relationships Benita learned about support services and civil society organisations working to fight HIV.
 
“This is how I went to the organisation Calidad de Vida (Quality of Life), which is a Trócaire partner.  Over there, I learned that the HIV was not going to kill me. I learned to love me, accept myself as I am and value myself as a woman. I began to get to know everything about the disease there. I got psychological support and I raised my self-esteem. Since it had not finished my studies, I was also motivated do it and I finally could! I finished my secondary education.”
 

HIV in Honduras

 
The AIDS epidemic in Honduras, as in many parts of the world, has undergone a ‘feminisation’ in recent years. In 1986, the man/woman ratio in reported HIV cases was approximately 2:1, by 2005 this gap was almost closed. According to UNAIDS information, it was estimated that by 2003 there were 33,000 women, between 15 and 49 years old, living with HIV in Honduras. 
 
The Network of Positive Women in Honduras was born in response to the need to develop strategies to reduce the social and cultural vulnerability of women to the HIV epidemic. This organization, of which Benita is a prominent member, now has a presence in eight cities in Honduras and is a major civil society actor on HIV. 
 
Through her involvement in civil society groups, Benita began to build a reputation as a vocal and effective HIV activist. 
 
“I began to show up in the mass media. The first time that I was in a TV program, I thought ‘I am black, I am a woman and I am HIV positive. But I am going to make a difference.’ And I began to give a testimony that the fight against HIV is difficult, that we must not lock ourselves up, we must find someone who inspires us confidence in order to talk about our condition, because if I had not done so I would not be here now.”
 
Inspired by the women, who supported her after her diagnosis, Benita volunteers at Forosida (another Trócaire partner) and devotes her time to supporting other people living with HIV in the community - doing home visits and accompanying people to health centers and hospitals, as well as promoting prevention and solidarity.
 
She also writes poetry, and shares two of them here. The first, Fear, was written with her friend Trudys Perez who died from HIV. Trudys visited Benita at home after her diagnoses and motivated her to carry on. The second is called Triumph. Both poems featured in a 2010 collection Living+: Testimonies, poetry and hopes from people living with HIV/AIDS.
 
Fear
Fear
People´s look
Fear
Revealed diagnosis 
I do not want to see anybody 
Difficult situation
Mortal surprise
That takes peace away  
Fear of death
Of contempt
Of rejection.
 
Triumph
I dance
the sound of the wind
lifts my hair 
of my old spirit
I learned to succeed.
 
Benita is now studying social development management and says her goal is “founding an organisation of women to provide accompaniment, teach them about self-care, adhesion and their rights, with branches throughout Honduras.”

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January 09, 2014

'Their future is in the hands of others'

 
By Noelle Fitzpatrick, Syria Support and Partner Liaison Officer 
 
The first sign of the impact of Syria’s civil war on Lebanon is the number of young children selling flowers by the roadway. 
 
Driving from the airport at night, we see children younger than 10 years of age trying to earn money; selling flowers to survive, but putting themselves in danger from all sorts of exposure at the same time. 
 
My Lebanese colleague comments on the worsening traffic jams, the increase in police and army check points, and the growing tensions as the Syria crisis continues to spill over into the region. 
 
Currently, almost 30% of the Lebanese population are refugees. People in this tiny country, just half the size of Munster, are feeling the impact of the rising population on their everyday lives. Rental prices are rocketing, public services are stretched, and the precarious balance between different religious and political communities is tipping. 
 
A child from one of the 50 Syrian families now living in a half-built apartment block near Reyfoun, close to the border with Syria.
 
Caption: a child from one of the 50 Syrian families now living in a half-built apartment block near Reyfoun, close to the border with Syria. The families fled Syria due to the war and are now living on a building site. (Photo: Patrick Nicholson / Caritas Internationalis)
 
Those tensions erupted in twin explosions near the Iranian embassy in Beirut; explosions which I heard. The mobile network jammed and internet access slowed as people scrambled to check on the safety of family and friends. We were all advised not to travel more than was necessary and asked not to make any non-essential calls in order to keep lines free for emergency services. 
 
Following the attack, the fathers of both men involved turned them in to the authorities. Funerals took place and the many injured received whatever medical supports they could in a health system under strain. Life went on. 
 
In the days that followed every day brought new security threats, new travel restrictions and new anxieties for local people – all a spill over from the crisis in Syria. 
 
Everywhere there was a growing sense of tiredness and anxiety. One young professional told me that people in Lebanon cannot plan for the future when the whole country is in danger of collapse. 
 
Some people just didn’t want to talk about it. They only want to focus on their partners, their children. They don’t know where the ultimate solutions will come from. They feel powerless, believing that their safety and future is in the hands of others and far beyond their own control. 
 
Many young Syrian refugees are now working on initiatives to support other Syrians. I heard from one young man how he fled his city of Raqqa when radical forces took over. He has deleted from his email and Facebook contacts the friends who chose to fight with these radical groups. He understands that everyone has to make decisions in war, but he does not believe in the way of the gun. His greatest pain is that his mother remains, and is sick. it is too dangerous for him to return there to see her. 
 
I witnessed the tension that built up, and almost spilled over, between two young men at a Syrian folk music session on a Saturday night in Beirut. One had been detained for months and tortured by the regime, the other had been shot by opposition forces. Colleagues and friends from a Trócaire partner organisation intervened to calm the situation. 
 
I spoke with taxi drivers, students, young people working in cafes and Syrian business people who wondered how all this death, destruction and suffering has been allowed to happen. Some people feel ashamed, others just utterly confused. 
 
For all of them, life is on hold. 

December 18, 2013

2013 in pictures

January 2013

Trócaire marked the anniversary of the devastating eartquake in Haiti on 12 January, meeting some of the people who received support from our Irish donors.

trocaire haiti
Young people at the Trócaire-funded Viva Rio project in the Bel Air area of Port au Prince, an area which suffers from high levels of gang violence. This project employs local youths to mentor younger children, providing role models and an outlet for physical activity. Photo: Eoghan Rice
 

February 2013

On 2 February, we celebrated our 40-year anniversary working for a just world.

trocaire 1973

Highlights from Trócaire's 40-year history.

 

March 2013

Our Lent 2013 highlighted our work to support forgotten communities in rural India to gain access to land and government services.

lent 2013 paraja family

The Parajas from Odisha, India, were our Lent 2013 focus family. Photo: Jeannie O'Brien

st finians school

St. Finian's Community College, Swords organised a special non-uniform and breakfast celebration day to support Trócaire's Lent campaign

 

April 2013

Our annual TrócaireLive event took place at the Grand Social in Dublin as a special thank you to our volunteers for their support over Lent 2013.

trocaire live 2013

TrócaireLive acts: RSAG, Madu, Justine Nantale, Discovery Gospel Choir, Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble and Gypsy Rebel Rabble. Photo:Marc O'Sullivan www.marcosullivan.ie

 

May 2013

In Guatemala General Jose Efrain Rios Montt is found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Upon sentencing Judge Barrios echoed the voices of the victims when she said “For there to be peace in Guatemala, first there must be justice.” Read the full story of the Ríos Montt trial.

Rios Montt Guatemala trial

Families of victims and survivors at the trial of Ríos Montt in May 2013. Photo: Elena Hermosa.

 

June 2013

Trócaire launched an emergency appeal for support for the escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria where over 9 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian aid, 6.5 million people have been forced to abandon their homes and a further 2.2 million are seeking shelter in neighbouring countries.

trocaire syria appeal

 

Trócaire also launched its Food Not Fuel campaign against land grabbing and mistreating of Mayan communities in Guatemala with the support of actor Aidan Gillen.

aidan gillen trocaire guatemala

Aidan Gillen stands with members of the Rio Frio community in Guatemala's Polochic Valley. The community was evicted off land in March 2011 and now live in emergency shelter built by Trócaire.  Photo: Jeannie O'Brien

 

July 2013

Trócaire led a special pilgrimage hike up Slieve Donard to help raise awareness of and vital funds for some of the world’s poorest communities.

trocaire slieve donard

Supporter Patrick McBrearty scaled Slieve Donard on 28 July to fundraise for Trócaire. Photo: Patrick McBrearty

 

August 2013

An estimated 10,000 people marched from El Salvador del Mundo (the Savior of the World) to the Legislative Assembly to demand the approval of the General Water Law. 

el salvador water march

Photos: Michael Solis

 

September & October 2013

Trócaire launched this year's Trad for Trócaire campaign - with events up and down Ireland as well as overseas.

trad for trocaire 2013

Left: Joseph Mannion (9) from Dungarvan and Trad for Trócaire musicians from across Waterford greeted RTÉ presenter Kathryn Thomas and the RTÉ Big Music Week train in Waterford train station. 

 

November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan strikes in the Philippines killing over 5,600 people and displacing a further 4.1 million. Trócaire joins the emergency response through its Caritas partners in the region - distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils. 

trocaire philippines emergency appeal

Top left: A sign points to the affected village of La Paz, just south of Tacloban on Leyte island. Top right: People queue for medicines at a government distribution centre in Tacloban. Bottom: A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte island. This region was the worst affected by the typhoon, causing widespread damage and loss of life. Photos: Eoghan Rice, Trócaire/Caritas
 
 

December 2013

Trócaire launched the 'Facing AIDS' exhibition and e-action calling on the Irish Government to affirm its commitment to tackling HIV in its development plans.

facing aids trocaire exhibition

Bertha (45) and Pemphero (9), Malawi. Photo: Elena Hermosa

 

The world mourned the loss of one of its most inspirational leaders and rights activists, Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 to 5 December 2013). Trócaire was very involved in the struggle against apartheid and of Mandela our executive director, Eamonn Meehan said: 

"Nelson Mandela taught us so many lessons about courage and consistency. He was an icon for humanity who personified the notion that good can triumph even against the greatest odds."

 

nelson mandela trocaire tribute

 

December 18, 2013

Thank you for all your support in 2013

by Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire
 
The Christmas and New Year period is a time to reflect on how the support of people all over Ireland has helped to change the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. 
 
Through your support, Trócaire has continued to work with communities across Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia to help people build dignified lives for themselves. 
 
From the 2,409 families in Honduras who now have access to treated water, to the 2,800 families in Malawi who received food aid during a recent drought and the 2,451 survivors of sexual violence in Kenya who have received care and assistance, your support this past year,  has made a huge impact on marginalised people. 
 
This work would simply not happen if it was not for the support of people in Ireland. Once again, and despite the continued difficulties facing many people as a result of the economic recession, people have rallied in support for the world’s poorest people. Last Lent, for example, your generosity raised almost €8 million for our programmes. 
 
In addition to our long-term development work, the last 12 months have also seen us respond to significant humanitarian emergencies. In June we asked for your support to help the people of Syria as the civil war in that country continued to worsen. Five months later, disaster struck the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan left large parts of that country utterly devastated.
 
Trócaire has responded to both of these emergencies. We are working with our Caritas partners to deliver emergency aid, including food, blankets, shelter and medicine, to approximately 600,000 people affected by these emergencies – 220,000 people in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and over 380,000 people in the Philippines. 
 
The fact that people in Ireland have once again shown such solidarity and compassion with people suffering the most horrendous of experiences is an incredibly powerful sign of our own commitment to working for a just and fair world for all.
 
This solidarity has been the foundation on which Trócaire has helped to tackle global poverty for 40 years. 2013 saw the organisation mark its 40th anniversary and also saw another landmark event when Justin Kilcullen, who had been Executive Director for 20 years, retired. 
 
From a personal point of view, it was an honour for me to be given the opportunity to take on the responsibility of replacing Justin. Having worked closely with him for many years, I know the enormous contribution he made to the success of the organisation. 
 
Along with the rest of our staff, volunteers and campaigners, I look forward to continuing to channel your support to the people who need it most. 
 
On behalf of everybody at Trócaire, our partner organisations and the people we work with, have a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. 
 
 
Find out more about the impact of your support (click on image below or view Your Support at Work here):
trocaire supporters update
December 16, 2013

Educating for sustainable development

by Claire O’Carroll, Development Education Officer
 
Trócaire’s Development Education team is taking part in an EU-funded project Millennium Development Goals '15 to promote justice, development and sustainability issues in post-primary schools. 
 
Project partners participate in yearly study exchange visits in which a member of each NGO travels to a partner country with a group of educators in order to share good practice and develop new skills and resources. This year Trócaire is privileged to be partnered with Belgian NGO, Studio Globo.
 
Last month, I joined a team of teachers and lecturers (of subjects including Art, Irish and Civic, Social and Political Education) in Brussels to learn about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). This is a process which aims to equip students and teachers to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.  It focuses on linking local attitudes to global solutions. 
 
The ESD delegation visited two schools in the Flanders region which are working closely with Studio Globo. We saw the dedication of both students and staff in their many campaigns on social justice issues. 
 
trocaire development education workshop
Students from Herk de Staad school demonstrating the MDG game they devised for primary school students
 
It was amazing to see how the quest for justice permeated throughout the schools’ ethos, not just as part of the citizenship education slot in the timetable. In these schools, active civic participation was integrated in a whole-school approach, led by democratic and transparent student councils. 
 
Both schools are running sustainability projects, looking at what they can do at a local level to conserve the environment. One school is focussing on the negative effects of meat production, the other on campaigning on climate change issues both abroad and in Flanders.
 
The trip provided a space for Belgian and Irish teachers to share good practice and visit sustainable projects. The Irish delegation returned with renewed energy to work on projects promoting a sustainable lifestyle within their schools.
 
Trócaire is also part of the Green-Schools initiative, an international environmental education programme, environmental management system and award scheme that promotes and acknowledges long-term, whole school action for the environment.
 
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