Our Helping Hands
Editor’s note: Jack Haight is working on a community-based program educating people about HIV/AIDS and addictions.
Please let me introduce myself. My name is Jack Haight, I have been living with HIV/HEPC for the last 19 years. I am a Metis father of two grown sons, and I identify as a two-spirited person. My journey of acceptance of myself and this virus has me using all of my past life struggles as a way to help others who are coming along behind me in the movement as well as living with HIV.
My goal in Peer to Peer helping is to build a safe welcoming space for people to come a do a scary and difficult task: have their HIV status checked. You can imagine that the riskier the person’s life style, the scarier the whole experience will be. I understand that fear of going into an agency when you may or may not know your HIV status - Will people know or think I have this?
I know only too well the pain and confusion that is running through a person once they are diagnosed with any illness. Once the person has had a chance to accept it and start to normalize it only then does it start to subside and the client begins to feel more whole.
All of this stuff is really up for me right now I judge, because I am sitting on a provincial Aboriginal HIV Health Summit Planning committee. I am doing some national work that feeds my soul and I want to be able to do some great work in my own backyard.
We are clearly defining what GIPA (Greater Involvement of People living with HIV) is and what it isn’t. I have uncovered what I am now choosing to call: “The language of my heart in explaining my human experience as it pertains to living successfully while dealing with addictions and a chronic illness.”
We have also been consciously creating ceremony in our minds and in the framework we are using to move forward. We are acknowledging Creator and I can see now that whenever I am in my higher self and temporarily free of my ego and talk from my wise old one, I can explain myself without ever offending anyone, usually. My language is soft and loving and respectful and mindful of the power of the spoken word.
All of this has led to us being able to create a response from within a First Nation and we are calling it “Our Helping Hands.” We’re working by engaging a Native Alcohol & Drug Assistance Program worker (Brennen Ireland), a concerned community member (Lana Parenteau) who had chosen to go back to school for Alcohol and Drug dependency and has an aspiration to help her community, and myself, an APHA (Aboriginal Person Living with HIV).
We shared our strengths and weakness and fashioned a series of solutions for the issues the community was facing.
We started a once a week outreach and provided people with a sandwich and soup and support and education around HIV/HEPC/ADDICTION, and a culturally safe and relevant access to outside community services where applicable.
We held a monthly education session for the grandmothers, parents and children. We also started a Harm Reduction Opiate Sharing circle for people at any stage of their addiction. Our goal is to meet people where they are at so they can come for information and support to start addressing what is not working for them in their personal lives.
Brennan and Lana and I were able to start to normalize living with HIV and show how to successfully engage with clinical care, treatment and support. This was achieved by simply having me and others come in and share our experience of living openly with a HIV diagnosis.
So it was a natural progression to start working with the nurse who was doing anonymous testing off reservation in our area so that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people know we are with them through the whole testing experience, supporting and educating them in a style that will stick with them.
The lived experiences of us three amigo’s, as well as being part of a National Aboriginal Working Group on HIV/AIDS/HEPC, had all three of us grounded in all of our knowledge and gifts and armed us with what the Industry standard should be and looks like. That was our guiding principle.
Learning to engage with a community and create responses that meet its needs, requires it to be built on commonalties: empathy, non-judgement, and actually looking for the similarities in the client’s life. Stop using the glaringly different coping mechanisms the client is currently employing as a wall to separate off from. The moment a person engages in that energy in a interpersonal exchange the other person feels that. Help is either inclusive of all or exclusive of many.
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