Natreka Wallace is a peer educator for the Bahamas Red Cross HIV programs, working with her colleagues to increase disease and prevention awareness in their communities. Many national stakeholders have requested their assistance at various activities, including national HIV testing events, World AIDS Day activities, community health fairs and condom blitzing campaigns, including the Condomize! campaign.
My name is Natreka Wallace and I am 19 years old. I work in a childcare centre and I play in the Centreville Band in my hometown of Nassau, Bahamas. That is how I was first recruited into the Bahamas Red Cross HIV project: a Field Officer told us band members about the project. After doing the training and starting to do the peer education I really enjoy it and believe in the process.
In school we only ever learn the most basic things; being a peer educator opened my eyes to serious issues. I knew the basics about HIV, but I didn’t really know all the facts. I used to look at some people differently and treat them differently because I didn’t have all the information.
One of the best things about the peer education part of the program is talking to people about healthy and unhealthy relationships; I can help friends understand better ways of acting and thinking. Sometimes people think it is encouraging youth to have sex by talking about how to stay protected; many parents are ashamed to talk about sex with their kids, and they react negatively when others try to. The good news is that when people find out we’re trained by the Red Cross, they are more willing to listen.
Before my training, I was very shy to speak with strangers, even my peers who we target, ages 16 and older. Now that I’ve been trained by the Red Cross though, I have more confidence, for speaking with groups and one-on-one. As an artistic person, creative approaches like the “Condomize Project” opened up new and fun ways to speak with my peers. People are learning about the importance of safe sex, and the peer educators are building a positive reputation in our communities – when we walk down the street people come up to us asking for new information and for condoms. Before, there was not much information and people were afraid to get tested or to use condoms. Now, people know it’s OK to get tested and to use condoms; they know who the peer educators are, they find us and ask for condoms and to talk. It is exciting to see people becoming aware and confident in the community.