A day in the life of Enrique Chavez

IAS member and Advocacy Director at AID for AIDS

When I began working for AID for AIDS International in my native Peru 13 years ago, I came face-to-face with two harsh realities: people living with HIV or AIDS were dying from a lack of proper medical treatment, and nobody was doing anything about it.

My goal back then was simply advocating for the right of people with HIV or AIDS to get access to life-saving medications. It was a bad situation: there wasn’t enough medicine to go around, and the most discouraging thing was that no one in a position to change it was paying any attention to the problem.

So, by necessity, I was thrust into the new role of AIDS activist -- banging on doors, barging into government offices and organizing rallies, trying to influence the powerful to take action. As it turned out, it was a role that perfectly suited my personality.

On the ground in Peru, I had some success, but my experience there taught me that no one person, or group, could generate lasting changes in political or social policy. To begin breaking down the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, ending the discrimination faced by people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and getting governments and NGOs fully engaged in the fight, I saw the need for vast networks of activists working closely together across international borders.

When I arrived in the U.S. in 2003 and went to work in Aid for AIDS International’s (AFAI) New York headquarters, I put my beliefs into action as the first director of the organization’s new Advocacy Department. While the department has regional offices in Peru, Dominican Republic, Panama and Chile, its reach extends throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, Observatorio Latino (www.observatoriolatino.org), the online forum that enables activists to monitor the use of funds from the Global Fund to Fight HIV and AIDS, currently operates in 21 countries.

The goal is to link individuals and groups in each country so they can speak with one powerful voice, and give them all the tools they need to participate in making decisions that affect their lives.

Today, so much has changed since my dark days in Peru: many Latin American governments are now actively involved in the struggle, and tens of thousands of PLWHA in the region have access to appropriate medical treatment and medication monitoring. Nevertheless, for me and the AFAI’s Advocacy Department, the struggle goes on, and so does the job of building new partnerships and programs.

My day at AFAI’s headquarters is intense. Every morning I start by checking the 100+ emails I receive to prioritize the multiple projects I must handle. Due to the nature of my work, I must rely on new communication technologies to be on top of all the issues and activities that I lead. I stress the importance of more direct communication via telephone or Skype to ensure everything goes according to plan despite the distance that exists within the vast network of activists and Community Based Organizations that I work with in Latin America and the Caribbean.