As I write this, it’s nearly unbelievable that over three months have passed since COVID-19 was on the news and rapidly spreading across the globe. A weekly Zoom call, hours in front of my screen, and my newfound amusement for staring out the window surely do not help tally or structure my days. Like for many others I expect, the reality of our situation seeped in fast. What some swiftly shrugged off soon came to be something that shook the entire nation and beyond. Now we face our days asking if things will ever be the same, and it’s getting harder to recall what life was like before COVID-19. Nevertheless, while this new normal has taken some time getting used to and more and more things seem to be uncertain, some genuinely special joys have emerged amidst this pandemic. This threat has asked us to reflect on what connection looks like and has given us the pause to envision what a strong community can truly look like—and in this field, my preceptor and practicum organization surely deserve the stage.
Not only have I been grateful to practice qualitative research skills in the context of HIV self-testing through my practicum, but I have learned what the strength of a community can do for the health and wellbeing of one another. Colectivo Amigos contra el SIDA (CAS) has been ahead of the curve and thriving thanks to their cohesion and connectedness to their community. CAS works tirelessly to improve gay men’s health in Guatemala City and during this pandemic, they have gone above and beyond to remain available and supportive of their communities. Undoubtedly, CAS is one of the leading community-based sexual health organizations in Latin America, but they truly stand out because of how they engage with and equip their communities, and how they adapt and respond to their community’s most pressing challenges.
It has been outstanding to recognize and appreciate that the success of CAS’ programs and initiatives are all because of the genuine care, love and attention they place on their community. CAS has the reach and impact they do because their leadership, staff, and volunteers are devoted to combatting HIV and other infectious diseases and advocating for their people. This spirit of community is something that will stay with me even beyond the confines of my career and I am sincerely honored to be working with the incredible team at CAS now and during this pandemic. They have shared not only tools with me but have taught me that the driver of change comes from the passion and cooperation of groups of people who have respect for one another and a vision for a better, healthier future.