Is the religious community doing enough to prevent the spread of HIV? What the People Say about...
By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
September 9, 2002

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A one-day consultation to discuss the response of the religious community to HIV and AIDS was recently organised. While the consultation was welcomed, it is opinion of some that the religious community has done little if anything and such a session was long overdue. We asked the man\woman-in-the-street for their opinions on whether the religious community is doing enough to educate the public and prevent the spread of HIV. These were their reactions:

Roslyn De Florimonte - data entry clerk: `I don't think they are, because...basically most of the religious groups, the Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, will not discuss certain things. They all need to come together. There are some (religions) talking about it and there are some that are not. They should come together and form one big committee. This would include all the religious communities because it's definitely not confined to one religion. They should talk, it's everybody's responsibility, a social issue and a national problem. The reality is there are a lot of young people who need to know, teenagers especially. I think that at least from Primary Four they should start educating them about it. It's nonsense if people believe that the church should not educate young people about it. Everybody needs to know. They may feel that it is not their job, that's why they are not doing it. But I feel it should be their job.'

Ryan Singh - operator: `They could do more. The church can get the message out to a lot of people, but they could only advise people. It's up to them to make the right choices based on the advice they receive from the church. The church is not responsible. What can the church do to prevent you or me, except give advice?'

Patrick Singh - private sector employee: `No. I don't think the religious communities or even the government is doing enough to educate the people about HIV and AIDS. We need education from the primary level. Though AIDS is the topic today what about other sexually transmitted infections (STI's) like syphilis, herpes and gonorrhoea. In my opinion I don't think that no one religious community, NGO or even the government could do anything to sensitise the public. The churches are not doing anything, they are just doing lip service. They should talk about it, maybe even make it a part of the sermon. We need to have a more in-depth commitment from everyone, the NGOs the government, the churches, to educate the nation. The churches can pass on the message. But I believe that AIDS and other social problems facing the country are as a result of poverty. An effort should be made on this front by the government and the private sector.'

Priya Khelawan - student: `No. Because they don't really do that much in the church. They don't warn against the dangers, they only tell you AIDS is bad and go no further than that in their explanation. They should make an effort to tell us about it. AIDS is rampant in the Caribbean and if they tell us about it, people will listen. Some will not but they need to get the message out. Young people like to experience things at an early age they don't think about the effects of their actions. The church can help us make better decisions.'

Samantha Holder - teacher: I don't believe they are doing enough. They should try to implement many youth groups where older folks, knowing more about AIDS, can talk and work along with young people. A lot of people might say that they are trying, that they are doing their best. But they should try to think of new ways to capture the interest of young people, perhaps there could be more talk shows or camps, where they would invite people from all over the country, people of different ethnic groups and different ages, and they could share their knowledge in the unfamiliar areas. It is not just the church's responsibility, but they are one of the groups responsible. There are a lot of people who trust in the church and they should use this to make people more aware.'

Balgobin Rajnauth - pastor: `No. I don't think they are, but I believe that it's both ways, the religious communities are not doing enough but the people who are infected are not doing enough themselves. I think that the religious communities are not doing enough because they don't know enough. They need to be educated. We need to have more seminars like the recent seminar organised by the Guyana Council of Churches. I call upon the youth leaders in the churches to attend these seminars so that they could educate themselves and other young people who make up the churches. They make up a very significant sector of society, and they could go back to their own communities and educate even more people. The church has always been a learning and teaching institution and when people are properly educated they can make better decisions. Though the focus should not only be on the young leaders in the church but also the elders since it's a significant problem in Guyana which needs to be handled carefully. Not only the young people are victims. We could also educate people outside the church, like at conferences in places like the interior. We must be educated enough to carry out the message. Jesus can still heal people who have AIDS.'

Anju Heera - student: `I think that they are not. There are a lot of young people who are not educated about HIV and AIDS and they need to be. They [the religious communities] have a responsibility. I believe the people will listen to the churches, some people are very religious. They have not done so much. If they did, they would have a great response and as a young person I would expect the church to do much more for young people.'

Kenneth Joseph - student: `They don't really talk about it [HIV and AIDS] in church. They should. It's something that should be discussed everywhere. They need to do it because the education needs to be more widespread. They are not doing anything at all. At the churches I have been going to it has never really come up as a topic for discussion. I have never heard them talk about it. They should. Anybody could get it and everybody should know about it.'

Daune Fraser - private sector employee: `Well, I feel the religious communities are lacking on the whole in addressing the issue of HIV\AIDS. They should talk about it in church. It's a worldwide dilemma and something they should discuss. Maybe even have counselling about it. Some might find it embarrassing or inappropriate to speak about AIDS in church, but there are some people with the virus who go to church and are ignorant of the disease. They need to have more information about it. I know there are some people who still believe that because a person has AIDS you cannot use the same cup they use or any one of the other myths attached to AIDS. They need to get more information, it's not only a sexually transmitted disease. There is more to it and people don't understand that it could be transmitted through many other ways, you get it at the dentist. It should be a responsibility of the church because they have a commitment to the people.'
Clifford Zammett - consumer affairs officer: `I believe the churches are doing enough. The people are not obeying the advice of the church. With church it's just a matter of advice: They will talk to people and they have no other authority. The average person goes to church because it's a moral obligation. But when it comes to doing what the churches say, they don't. The church should be a place to deal with a national issue and they should be given more support or assistance in this area to work in the communities. A church is a part of social structure, it serves the community, they have many young people involved and they could get the message over to them much more easily.'

Jineal Richmond - student: `I don't think that they are doing much to educate young people. I have been visiting a lot of churches for a while now and I have never heard them speak about it, specifically at the youth fellowships where they should. It is the responsibility of the elders to educate the young, they have children, they should ensure that their children are educated about the disease. The church's role is very important. If they don't say anything at the Sunday mass they could do it at youth fellowships. The adults, the elders, they could meet and invite persons from volunteer groups or NGO's to speak with young people.'

Dexter DaSilva - student: `I don't believe they have. The only time when people talk about AIDS is at health forums, where they might discuss the issue with young people. It's missing in the church. They need to do something, they could have meetings with the communities in their area where they can advise people, especially young people, about the transmission of AIDS. You can see a lot of young people are getting AIDS and a lot of other STD's like syphilis and gonorrhoea. The churches should do more, be more responsible, since they have an opportunity to educate people.'

Teena Persaud - student: `You'll find people in the churches infected with the virus and I don't think they are doing anything about it. They preach "don't have sex before marriage," but for many young people these days it doesn't work that way. They should start preaching safe sex rather than saying not to have sex. Suppose you don't want to get married what then? They are not doing enough and I think they should start putting more of an emphasis on it.'