Leticia is a development worker from El Salvador. She has recently finished her placement as a HIV and AIDS Adviser and Strategy Specialist (awareness-raising, prevention and training for young people) at the Centro de Apoyo y Consejería en VIH/SIDA (HIV and AIDS Centre for Advice and Support), in Vinces, Los Ríos, Ecuador.
What is your work background?
I studied Plastic Arts but my humanistic upbringing took over and lead me to work for non-governmental organisations, those that as a cultural approach ran projects for young people.
Since 2004 I have worked with groups of young people in different parts of my country, promoting initiatives to improve their conditions of life and aspirations for the future.
How would you describe yourself?
I am an idealistic, sensitive and down-to-earth person, and I find it easy to adapt to different situations. I strongly believe that we all have a duty to leave our mark on the world.
What inspired you to become a development worker with Progressio?I saw an opportunity to apply my experience to another country, with an organisation which has clear lines of work. Many countries in Latin America have similar problems, and I was attracted by the opportunity of a new experience, to meet young people who have the same worries but live in different conditions.
Is living in your placement country how you imagined?
I imagined that the climate would be warm because Vinces is a coastal province, but I didn’t think that the people would be so welcoming – it was like an extension of my own country. I never felt like an outsider. However, I was shocked by all the noise – it’s a very noisy city. I find it hard to understand that motorbikes are a pastime and because moto-taxis are the internal means of transport it’s impossible to escape the noise.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The spontaneity with which the boys and girls want to get answers to their questions about everything concerning sexual and reproductive health and HIV and AIDS. The trust that they put in me when sharing their personal stories. And knowing that my opinion or suggestion, based on my life experience, grabs their attention because they believe that young people in other countries don’t have the same problems.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
When a young leader took charge of a group of 45 students – from the moment that she introduced herself saying “I am a young leader at the HIV and AIDS Centre for Advice and Support where I am a fourth year student and I am going to talk to you about what I have learnt about HIV”, until the end, when she earned the applause of the whole class. It is gratifying to watch them give a talk with confidence and assertiveness in what they’re saying.
What has been the biggest lesson so far?
All the young boys and girls deserve an opportunity. It is not the boy or girl who gets the best marks that deserves to be part of the leadership group. Youngsters who are known to be restless have shown that, with guidance and support, they are able to develop, improve their attitudes and now they are proud of their achievements.
What is the biggest development challenge facing Ecuador and the area in which you are working?
Ecuador has a long way to go in response to the HIV epidemic: there is a lack of State control over the financial resources in terms of the national response to AIDS and there is no inter-institutional coordination effort to ensure a greater impact and gradual responsibility within the most vulnerable groups.
Unfortunately, the absence of a State policy, a broad vision and a participation model, do not help to further the provision of awareness-raising, information and public support services that is really needed. However, the number of people who die from illnesses related to the virus continues to increase.
If you could change one thing, what would that be?
In my personal life, I would like to see my family and friends more often.
In a social context, I would like there to be institutions without corruption giving the attention to health issues that all Ecuadorian citizens deserve and have a right to.
What strikes you the most about Progressio’s development worker model?
The autonomy with which each development worker undertakes his or her work: no one is looking to take the lead role and everyone is free to make suggestions. Generally, I think that all of the counterparts are happy with the interventions. My Progressio-HIV and AIDS Centre for Advice and Support relationship has been very cordial.
What is your favourite motto or saying?
“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. In other words, make suggestions or look for solutions before feeling sorry for yourself. Working with people living with HIV or AIDs has given me a deeper understanding of this saying.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
It is important to balance the expectations that we set with the reality on the ground. Being open and willing to engage with cultures that are different to your own can be enriching if you are open and understanding. Building genuinely close relationships with the beneficiaries sets standards which are not outlined in the project guidelines but make the work easier and more pleasant.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?
I am interested in Ecuador so if I find an opportunity I’ll stay, otherwise I’ll go back to El Salvador, my country, to continue working with development organisations. The experience has strengthened my enthusiasm for and interest in working in HIV and AIDS prevention. The role of the Catholic Church in the HIV and AIDs epidemic has given me new perspectives on life.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Cooperation is one of life’s opportunities, it enables us to channel what as men and women we can do for other men and women. Christian compassion overcomes social barriers and it identifies with all those – men and women – who are stigmatised, excluded or oppressed and it embraces them.