A Silent Shout About HIV/AIDS*
By Judith Santiago
Learn more about World AIDS Day
Over the past 26 years much has been reported about the rising cases of HIV/AIDS in the US and abroad. However, there's little known about an extraordinary group of survivors that attends the Quality of Life Retreat once a year: the community of the Deaf. The Deaf Shalom Zone of Baltimore, MD provides sign language interpreters so that the Deaf people with HIV/AIDS can have communication access to the Quality of Life Retreat.
Quality of Life Retreats are conducting their 77th retreat in December 2007. This year, Quality of Life Retreats received additional support and funding in 2007 from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference and the General Board of Global Ministries' Health and Welfare unit. The retreat, open to everyone hearing and Deaf, empowers participants with life strategies that help them live with HIV/AIDS.
"My experience at the Quality of Life retreat was so great. It helped me to find myself, my inner place, my spiritual home, my peace, my purpose in life," so signed Rev. Harry Woosley, Jr., the leader of the Deaf AIDS community in Baltimore, and retreat attendee. "I want to help others to find life like I have," he continued.
Since the retreat Harry has been educating three high risk groups about AIDS- Deaf-blind people, a group of Deaf inner-city young people, and Deaf people living in group homes.
A Safe Place
The retreat offers a safe, loving environment in which participants can be themselves, free of fears and inhibitions and can openly discuss their deepest concerns and challenges about living with HIV/AIDS. The retreat offers an opportunity for participants to get away, interact with other HIV-positive individuals and learn effective techniques and attitudes for long-term survival.
Currently, there are an estimated 24,000 culturally Deaf individuals in Baltimore and 300 are reported Deaf AIDS cases. "HIV/AIDS cases are four times higher in the Deaf community than in the hearing community," according to Carol Stevens, coordinator of The Deaf Shalom Zone, a United Methodist sponsored Deaf ministry in the region.This fact alone demands society's attention to this often overlooked community.
Case Managers at Work
Agencies that provide services to hearing individuals are often inaccessible to the Deaf, therefore, The Deaf Shalom Zone includes case management services to help the complicated needs of Deaf people living with HIV/AIDS. Case managers help secure individuals who have contracted the disease but have no health insurance, medical care, medication or financial support. Case managers are often the shepherds through the process until individuals gain independence.
*Article revised Dec. 7, 2007