José Luis Castro Chuquillanqui, Community Educator
VIA LIBRE CRS, Lima, Perú
In the decade of the 90's and the beginning of 2000, my life changed significantly, but I didn’t understand why. Little by little I was losing friends from my very close environment, victims of AIDS. An epidemic arrived in Peru without warning in 1983.
My life, and those of many of our generation, were dying or in mourning at every moment. We began to schedule constant visits to hospitals, homes, to see friends who were consumed by the terrible evil, which at that time was impossible to think of a treatment that could calm the anguish and pain that invaded us.
I remember clearly the constant meetings of friends, where the issue of AIDS was entering our conversations, but we were unable to do anything. I also remember the unexpected telephone calls announcing the death of a friend or acquaintance. I remember the wakes, funerals, masses and visits to cemeteries. I remember our cries, our helplessness, our anger, our despair, our life planning. I always remember Leo, Ronald, Carlos, Víctor, Raiza, Pedro, Paco, Jesús, Juan, and many other friends who died of AIDS complications.
In the face of such impotence, I felt the need to be able to do something that could make me feel good. I inquired, I searched, I asked; and that's how I came to VIA LIBRE. In 2002 I joined the volunteer program that VIA LIBRE had. I had the opportunity to learn more about AIDS. I participated in various information campaigns. VIA LIBRE became my second home. It was the space from which I could feel relief, and be able to do something in the face of so much disinformation that existed at that time about AIDS.
Later, I was invited to participate in projects of political advocacy, prevention and human rights that VIA LIBRE implemented. I felt good, grateful, and satisfied to work on a topic that impacted me. I felt welcomed, and a feeling of being able to always help friends and the community about the new advances that had been taking place regarding HIV infection.
I went through other institutions, also working on HIV. It was the issue I had decided to work on, with no doubt. In 2015, VIA LIBRE summoned me and proposed I be part of the research center, in the position of Community Educator for the AMP study. A new challenge came into my life, which I assumed with a lot of commitment. Being in research allows me to have a more comprehensive view of the epidemic. Being involved means I can be a part of new alternatives in the prevention of HIV, I can contribute to science, I can have hope, and in some way, I can repay what I could not do at the time with the friends I lost.
In parallel, in 2014 I formed a community group in my area. Casa Diversa, an organization that brings together volunteers from LGTBI communities, works to make our sexual orientations and identities visible, and works with civil society and state organizations to expand access to social services and integral health care, with a focus on respect, inclusion and human rights.