Global Health Award 2019 Winner: Caitlin Parr - HIV/AIDS In Livingstone, Zambia

We were taught a lot about HIV before we left for our flight, but you can never grasp how big an issue it is until you experience it first hand. Being from a small, Welsh, middle of nowhere  place - I had never experienced the impacts of HIV or even needed to know too much about it. It was a global epidemic and that was all we knew. The big wide world stayed on the outside of our small village. Then before we knew it we were getting off this plane, into a bus, and on our way to Livingstone. Could we ever imagine what we would experience? Absolutely not. 

Photo Credit: Caitlin Parr

Photo Credit: Caitlin Parr

I study Human Geography and am very passionate about global health so I predicted what we would be in for. Through rigorous SKIP training, my team had an idea too, but I don't think any of us (no matter what our knowledge or research had led us to believe) were prepared for Livingstone. Every child we taught had been directly affected by HIV/AIDS in their lives. How can you ever comprehend such an issue when you've never known what HIV can do to people? Every lesson we taught taught us too, and every class we spoke to gave us a new perspective on how severe this was. We came to Zambia with the pretence of being the people we wanted to be, we wanted to help, we wanted to be that type of person that volunteered and changed the world, but we left being a completely different group of rounded individuals whose lives would be changed forever after what we experienced.

What could 4 small British people do in this situation other than put on a brave face and teach everything we could know about HIV/AIDS coming from a sheltered lifestyle in Cardiff? These children looked to us for help. They shared their stories and broke our hearts. One girl, aged 6, told us that her Grandad disappeared one day and was found passed on in his car. He had killed himself after learning he had AIDS. Our translator told us of her friends who had left notes at the top of Victoria Falls “I'm sorry. I cannot live with this disease anymore. God bless.” How can you ever process this?

My experiences in Zambia have changed my life. I have never been more cautious about preaching safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention methods. I have conducted my own research and attended so many lectures I would never have batted an eyelid at before. How can a disease that has taken so many, give someone so much? I thought I had my career path set until I saw these children, saw what they went through, and made friends for life with two HIV positive women and all of their friends. I will never again not dedicate my life to HIV prevention, and I will never again use small Welsh thinking when it comes to global health. Thank you, Livingstone.

Photo Credit: Ellie Cochrane

Photo Credit: Ellie Cochrane