Buddyzorg Positivo

positivo logoVisiting hours:wednesday 13.00 - 17.00 uur - Eerste Helmersstraat 17, Amsterdam
Telephone: 06 - 39 86 07 67 of 020 - 6160160
E-mail: buddyzorgpositivo@hivnet.org
Weblog: Positivo hiv enconsulta

Article published in Positive News - april 2011- by Peter J. Smit

Migrant buddies for Spanish and Portuguese speaking people

A buddy network for Spanish and Portuguese speaking migrants with HIV has become active again. This network is dedicated to representing this group.

The buddy network started in the beginning of 2009. There are five volunteers that maintain the network. People seeking help in finding migrant buddies can do so via the Association's website, in flyers at hospitals, and by word-of-mouth. On a Tuesday evening, I spoke with the supervisor of the buddy network, Genoveva Silva. Genoveva has a lot of experience in representing migrants. We were a bit pressed for time, but regardless Genoveva recounts how important the buddy network is.


“Migrant buddies are people who are dedicated to the interests of Spanish and Portuguese speaking migrants with HIV living in the Netherlands. They stand up for them and assist them in their needs for help, problems that are often related to their asylum status and to health issues. When it comes to medical issues, we try to refer them to the appropriate staff member within or outside the Hiv Vereniging (Dutch HIV Association).

There's some history to our initiative. There used to be an interest group within the Association, called SídaVida. This group left the HVN (Hiv Vereniging Nederland). This resulted in a hiatus for the target group. People started to wonder where they could go for help. We thought that there was a need to found a new group aimed at the same people. We learnt a lot from the previous supervisors. The support they used to give was very valuable. This is why we wanted to start using a similar organisational structure. On the other hand, I also remember it being quite hectic. People used to walk in at any time in the day, without an appointment, with very big problems often concerning differing aspects of life (including social, psychosocial and medical problems). As a result, group volunteers often felt under great pressure. For this reason we decided to deal with it in a more structured way. In this way, volunteer support could be borne more realistically.

Professional structure
The volunteers have taken a specialised course at Schorer. They take into consideration past experiences of what you can or must do. The group now work within clear guidelines, which are also communicated, directly to the clients. The volunteers must sign a volunteer’s agreement with the Hiv Vereniging; and this they must comply with. There are exceptions sometimes. However, we want to maintain these guidelines to the letter as long and as carefully as possible. There can be no lending of money to clients, and no home visiting, but rather an agreement on times and schedules about which clients may appeal to the volunteers. A framework like this might sometimes be difficult and might sound a bit 'harsh'. However, in the past volunteers have suffered a lot by opening their doors and their hearts for clients who subsequently then took advantage of them. The only way to avoid this is to make the agreements clear between volunteers and clients.

Multiple problems
Our clients live with HIV. They are immigrants and asylum-seekers with a broad range of issues and problems. They require support in almost all aspects of life. They are often people who have felt very lost during the hiatus of the SídaVida group. They've had nowhere to go for help concerning their issues.
As an example, a number of Ecuadorian transsexuals do not have such a difficult time here as they would in their country of origin. There they are chased like animals and sometimes killed or suffer genital mutilation. They are locked up by the police, who rape them, beating them black and blue. They flee and then, for example, end up in the Netherlands. For that reason alone, they should receive political asylum on humanitarian grounds. However, many end up in prostitution here. They often come from simple means. They have not learnt good social skills and often are unable to read or write. And usually they know no one here and without any papers either, they are 'undocumented'. Thus in the Netherlands, they also have to fear deportation. And because they need papers, they are unable to work in brothels. Thus they end up working on the street. Many of them become infected with HIV in the Netherlands due to prostitution. Sometimes they become ill and then find out they have HIV. They are often regarded as taking advantage of the health care system. This makes us really angry, because, of course, they do not.

Lack of security and support
Naturally many of the undocumented refugees want to lead a normal social life. But in their situation this is often difficult to achieve. They often do not have a permanent home or address, and also no permanent job. In an illegal situation it is often difficult to attain and maintain a regular life style. But we have a broader client range. We also see ‘mainstream’ heterosexual men and women as well as homosexual men. For example, a woman with three children living in the Netherlands; one of the children she brought with her (the others were born here). More than once, this woman almost died because not only did she have AIDS, but also lymphoma. By amazing good fortune, she survived — the doctors having already given up on her. She remains single. Her needs concentrate on accompaniment to the hospital and to other government agencies. She speaks broken Dutch. She really needs a person who supports her in those kinds of situations; someone who is there with her. Sometimes she has had to wait at hospital for seven hours in a row without being able to really talk to anyone. We can offer that kind of support: some human contact, warmth, and maybe a little love and affection. Other clients are heterosexual men who primarily need support in finding a lawyer. We also try to direct these people to the right authorities. For example, when financial support is needed to church social welfare work or the Aids Fonds (AIDS Fund). We sometimes interpret for them since their Dutch is often not that good.

Lending an ear
Then there are people who just need someone to talk to. People with psychosocial problems who just need to tell their story once in a while. You're sometimes on the phone with them for hours. We would very much like to stimulate contact between these people. For example by organising meetings, people could share experiences and openly talk about their HIV and other problems in a safe environment. However, this is still a barrier for many of our clients; there is still a strong taboo within our migrant communities surrounding HIV. Our clients are also stigmatised within their own migrant groups.

Humanitarian needs
Our migrants are often in difficult situations because of their restless lives. Often they do not have a permanent home, have no food to eat, are undocumented, have no regular income and do not have health insurance. However, most of them are able to access HIV medication. But this is also becoming increasingly difficult. In today's world you have to increasingly identify yourself everywhere. At almost every hospital you must first conclude agreements on payment and payment by instalment. This results in these people having great difficulty in maintaining loyalty to therapy. I think this is a huge disgrace. Sometimes they do not receive their medication on time. Although there is medication available for them at PlusApotheken. But more often it is the circumstances — the unrest in their lives — that is the cause of so much uncertainty and lack of order in their lives, which in turn makes therapy loyalty a problem.

Stigma: The Great Problem
We are still working on our buddy network. Currently we have about 10 to 15 regular clients. Some of these clients live outside Amsterdam; or they are unable to visit us. These are our telephone clients. They are sometimes also afraid of being recognised by fellow countrymen. The stigma against HIV is very intense among these groups. For example, one person is afraid to go to the nearest hospital because he is afraid of being seen by someone else who also visits that hospital. Stigmatisation of HIV positive people is such a great problem that even though he lives in a large city, he travels 50 kilometres to another large city to visit a hospital because the chance of recognition is less. A number of people from the SídaVida group also became our clients. When they need help they know how to find us. By now some of them have a residence permit and were able to find a house with a permanent address. But this is really a minority. The group worrying us the most is the undocumented group. The life in insecurity; not knowing what tomorrow will bring. They live in fear of being arrested by the police at any moment, of being suspected of something making no sense at all—they match a 'suspicious' profile as they police call it. Therefore they cannot put down roots; are not allowed to work (since they carry no papers). In some cases though through church social welfare work, they are allowed to take a few courses in Dutch. But a lot needs to be changed before the Netherlands can be regarded as a migrant-friendly country.

Critical representation
We also try to remain critical in regards to government policy. We do this in corporation with PAMA (Positive Africans Mutual Aid Association), an African migrant group, church social welfare work and with Inga Mielitz of ShivA.
We are supported by the staff members, volunteer support and the great diversity of the Hiv Vereniging. There we continuously discuss the activities organised by the Hiv Vereniging and how our clients can be involved. We are also in direct contact with the Aids Fonds. We are also involved with PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants), an organisation that represents undocumented people. PICUM publishes a high-quality newsletter on changes and possibilities regarding asylum legislation in Europe.

We think it is important that Dutch people and migrants collaborate to improve the intercultural process. That's easier said than done. We are still looking at ways of communicating on the basis of respect and acceptance. Cultures often clash. People see the world from within their own culture. Our migrants do not have a typical Dutch viewpoint on things … in fact they view things from the eyes of up-rooted outsiders. There is still often a distance in communication. This is sometimes the result of language barriers and sometimes because of a difference in backgrounds. This sometimes leads to conflict, but this is often resolved (the differences are not irreconcilable). Professionalism is urgently needed in the non-profit sector; but we need to make sure it does not become too businesslike! We have one Dutch volunteer, but we could use a few more! But they need to speak Spanish and/or Portuguese and have an affinity with our target group.”

At this moment the group can be reached through the ‘Servicepunt’, 020-6892577, or  buddyzorgpositivo@hivnet.org.


Hiv Vereniging Nederland

Eerste Helmersstraat 17


020 6 160 160

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020 689 25 77

For questions about living with HIV. Available monday, tuesday and thursday from 2 PM till 10 PM

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