It’s 1am. I’m in the back seat of a blacked out car in the outskirts of Recife, Brazil and I’m waiting to be told it is safe to get out to interview the local trans sex workers of the area. The car door opens and Claudia my guide and trans community liaison gets back in and says from the little Portuguese I can understand ‘drive on – there is a crack deal going on’…
It is fair to say that the 5 weeks I spent working on the TIE scheme have changed my life forever. My placement was with the incredible HIV awareness charity GTP+ founded by Wladimir Reis 18 years ago. The charity looks to contribute to the confrontation of the HIV epidemic; seeking to encourage activism and education; strengthening advocacy to defend the Human Rights and Citizenship of people seropositive to the HIV virus. It is unique in the North of Brazil as being the only charity run by people who are HIV positive.
I was tasked with designing a campaign to help raise awareness for the need to test for HIV and the availability of PrEP to a vulnerable part of the community in Recife, in the North East of Brazil. This community being poor sex workers – trans people and men who have sex with men.
The challenge was vast, government funding has almost entirely been cut, there is little to no education going on and the political climate has increased the stigma associated with HIV and marginalized the community even further.
On arriving in the country I was intimidated by the task that lay ahead but I was by no means alone in this placement. Immediately on landing in Recife I was met by Wladimir and a volunteer who hosted me for the 5 weeks. On Day 2 we had a kick off meeting that set the tone for this amazing project. It truly was a brilliant collaborative effort where Wladimir and Fernanda (head of the Trans organization) with passion and expertise briefed us on the situation at hand. Iris a local digital agency were in this briefing too and we embarked on 5 weeks of full immersion into the world these people live every day.
I spent the first week speaking to everyone and anyone, using any Portuguese I could muster, pointing, working with google translate on my phone and sometimes having a translator who was an English student from university. The stories and strength of character of these people was astounding. Many had left school or were thrown out of their homes at 12. They had no choice but to sell themselves to make money. They have been victims to abuse that no human being should go through, yet there they were still fighting, still sometimes smiling and carrying on.
After this emotional rollercoaster of a week immersing myself, visiting street corners, sex cinemas, male saunas and favelas I felt ready to try to form a strategy on how to reach this vulnerable community. Working closely with Iris and BBH throughout the process we presented to Wladimir our vision of the campaign. He started to cry. He thanked us and told us how it meant so much to him that we were there doing what we could to understand and make a difference. Needless to say the whole room was in tears by the end of his response. Never has my work felt so important and meant so much to me.
We left the meeting inspired and even more in awe of what this small charity is doing for these forgotten people. With under 4 weeks to go we then went full steam ahead into creation. We created a mantra to help educate and off that we produced posters, redesigned the charity website, wrote leaflets and even managed to launch a music video with a budget of 350 pounds tapping into the dance culture of the favela community. It was epic. We are now in the process of tracking the campaign and using paid media to boost/target its reach.
To experience Brazil and really get to know these people was a privilege. I only hope the impact this campaign has is as powerful as the TIE initiative has been on me. Thank you to BBH, Iris, the organizers of TIE and most importantly GTP+ for making this possible.