Sista project aims to help prevent AIDS
By Maria Garriga
NEW HAVEN — In an effort to combat skyrocketing HIV infections, AIDS Project New Haven has begun recruiting a new class for its Sista project.
The Sista project, developed by the Centers for Disease Control, is a social skills training program adapted for economically disadvantaged black women about AIDS and how to insist on protected sex.
The acronym stands for Sisters Informing Sisters about Topic on AIDS.
The moderator, Julie Anderson, draws from African tradition to help women feel comfortable talking about a difficult subject and to help them take personal responsibility for safe sex. There are five two-hour training sessions. They also get two follow-up sessions where to evaluate changed behaviors and help trouble shoot problems they may have in talking about safe sex.
Today, black Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for half of all new AIDS cases, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. And, despite medical advances that have sharply reduced HIV-related mortality rates for all racial/ethnic groups, HIV death rates are still significantly higher for Black Americans than other groups, the foundation reports.
Complicating matters, black women with AIDS have a harder time getting access to health care than their white counterparts.
The Sista project focuses attention on issues black women face, such as sexual stereotypes.
Anderson encourages women to look critically at popular culture: they watch music videos to assess how they portray black women (often in a degrading manner) and how those videos influence men who approach them.
Since a disproportionate number of black men have been incarcerated, many black women may be in a relationship with a man who has been in prison, who have a higher risk of HIV infection.
“Men are raped in prison. Men have sex with men. They are in a penal institution where condoms are not provided. They then return to a community that doesn’t talk about men having sex with men,” Anderson said. “By not talking about their past sexual experience, you are putting yourself at risk.”
So far, about 60 women have been through the training, which started in 2005.
Some of the practices include learning about the tradition of elders who sat in the baobab tree. The women take turns as the village elder, who beats on a tribal drum to call the meeting to order and to let participants know when their discussion has wandered off topic.
Anderson also uses African proverbs to teach participants how to draw on African cultural values for their safety.
She spreads cards with an African proverb inscribed on each, and each woman picks a proverb that speaks to her personally.
The proverbs come from all across Africa. They include sayings such as “Spilled water is better than a broken jar,” from Senegal, “Do not mend your neighbor’s fence before looking at your own,” from Tanzania, and “The ruins of a nation begins in the homes of its people,” from the Ashanti nation.
For more information on the program, email Julie Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.