2006.06.15: June 15, 2006: Headlines: COS - Namibia: AIDS: HIV: AIDS Education: Hippo Free Press: As a Peace Corps volunteer, Jesse Lamarre-Vincent trains youth in Namibia as peer health educators and has created after-school programs emphasizing the arts

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Namibia: Peace Corps Namibia : The Peace Corps in Namibia: 2006.06.15: June 15, 2006: Headlines: COS - Namibia: AIDS: HIV: AIDS Education: Hippo Free Press: As a Peace Corps volunteer, Jesse Lamarre-Vincent trains youth in Namibia as peer health educators and has created after-school programs emphasizing the arts

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-129-40-33.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.129.40.33) on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 9:43 am: Edit Post

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Jesse Lamarre-Vincent trains youth in Namibia as peer health educators and has created after-school programs emphasizing the arts

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Jesse Lamarre-Vincent trains youth in Namibia as peer health educators and has created after-school programs emphasizing the arts

People know where I live, and I never really turn them away. ...Kids will come to hang out and play chess or checkers, backgammon, I have board games and cards.... Thereís so many negative things they could be doing. I try to make my house a welcoming sort of space where there are healthy activities going on. ...people have heard that thereís this white guy that will help you record your music and he wonít charge you any money. So Iím forever getting calls and text messages, ďMr. Jesse will you help us .ÖĒ

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Jesse Lamarre-Vincent trains youth in Namibia as peer health educators and has created after-school programs emphasizing the arts

African beats

Concord native helps Namibian youth
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Caption: Jesse Lamarre-Vincent, center, is a Peace Corps volunteer in Namiba where he works with orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS. From left are Quenie, Mandeleine and Festus.Courtesy photo

Jesse Lamarre-Vincent, 25, of Concord, lives in the Razorwire Palace Ondangwa, Namibia. Namibia has about as many people as New Hampshire, with a 25 percent HIV infection rate and 120,000 orphans under 15 years old.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Lamarre-Vincent trains youth as peer health educators and has created after-school programs emphasizing the arts.

Beyond his official capacities, he helps his community any way he can. He started a nonprofit record company, Razorwire Palace Productions (razorwirepalace.com), helping kids record music or create modeling portfolios. Photos help girls raise their self-esteem, he said. ďTheyíre famous in their own minds. They donít need validation from anyone else.Ē

They call his house Razor Wire Palace because of its common theft-deterrent system.

Lamarre-Vincent majored in political science, international relations and studio arts at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. Heís thinking about law or graduate school perhaps in international development or peace and conflict studies. He talked to the Hippo last week while back in the states for his brotherís wedding Ė his first time here in 18 months.

Youíre on the forefront of the fight against AIDS in Africa. Is there progress being made? Are there enough resources, are they getting to the right places?

I think that the real problem is bringing all the resources and the aid and getting it to the people who need it most, in the most rural places. Thatís where people are sort of suffering the most. Theyíre farther away from hospitals and clinics. So itís harder to administer HIV drugs, or itís harder to keep track of orphans.

Itís an interesting time to be there because there really has been a push.Ö There are all these resources, thereís all of this information. Thereís all these condoms. But taking all those resources and finding ways to connect them with the people that need them most Ė -there arenít enough people on the ground doing that.

Your homeís apparently a gathering spot now. How did that come about?

People know where I live, and I never really turn them away. ...Kids will come to hang out and play chess or checkers, backgammon, I have board games and cards.... Thereís so many negative things they could be doing. I try to make my house a welcoming sort of space where there are healthy activities going on. ...people have heard that thereís this white guy that will help you record your music and he wonít charge you any money. So Iím forever getting calls and text messages, ďMr. Jesse will you help us .ÖĒ

Itís nice to be busy.

Since this is a two-year program, do people who live there feel like thereís a lot of turnover, is that jarring for them?

I think especially for the kids, itís sad to know that thereís a definite limit to the time Iím going to be there. What happens after two years when I tell them Iím leaving, and maybe Iíll come back to visit but thatís pretty much the end of my time there? Maybe Iím the only person who ever asks them how school is, or the only person whoís taken an interest in their music or their art. There can be a lack of role models because so many people are dying of AIDS, the older brothers and sisters and parents, there just arenít a lot of young adult or adult figures necessarily for them to look up to.

And itís hard for me too, to feel like maybe Iím filling this important role in their lives but I can only do it for this short period of time. Will I have enough of an influence that they will continue to make good choices after I leave? One of the hard things about being there is knowing youíre doing a lot of good, but then wondering how much of that will stay around when youíre gone.

Iíd imagine with such a high infection rate, you might get close to people who pass away while youíre there.

Itís hard, but because death is such a reality and so many people are dying, you never have time to fully process or fully grieve because another person dies ... so often times youíll find people get sort of numb because there is so much death. Death becomes less of a shocking thing to them whereas for us itís this huge shocking event.... Itís hard to be around it, to watch people die and see people not react Ė itís kind of shocking to think about how bad that situation is.

Did you feel prepared when you signed on for this?

I had no idea what I was getting myself into at all.

Itís been an amazing experience though. You learn to find ways to cope or you learn to get through your day. You find reasons to be positive and not despair. Alcoholism can be a huge problem there because a lot of people see the situation as hopeless and so the solution is theyíll just go get drunk whenever they can to get away.

There is hope.

You see children and theyíre always smiling and playing and happy. They havenít given up on life. You keep trying to educate the children as well as you can. And thereís always the possibility that they will fix the mistakes that have been made. Maybe they will keep themselves better protected from HIV. They are far more educated about it from a very young age.

A lot of people that come down will say itís a hopeless situation Ė but I donít think it is at all. Itís just that the focus has to be continuing to educate young people and continuing to support them so that you donít start solving the problem and let it get worse again.

One of the root problems of HIV is that youíre not necessarily concerned about HIV, youíre concerned about finding something to eat or getting a roof over your head.

Regarding that, do you feel like there are any economic opportunities or changes for the better in that area? Kids Ė do they have something to look forward to?

I think more so than in the past, I think they do. I think at least in the cities and larger towns theyíre realizing if they get a good education, they can go to university in the capital, and if they graduate from university they can get a good job. So I think the youngest generation of kids is realizing with a good education there are more opportunities for them, either in their country or in South Africa or in Europe or abroad. That education is a way for them to get out. And even small businesses Ė you see people starting small businesses and slowly developing the economy there.





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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Namibia; AIDS; HIV; AIDS Education

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