Two and half years ago Shalini accepted a position at a national not-for-profit organization which focuses on treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS. As the sole women’s health educator and advocate for her organization, Shalini is responsible for coordinating and managing all women’s-specific services. Shalini’s day-to-day activities, such as updating and editing a fact sheet, choosing topics for an upcoming newsletter, or designing a presentation for a health care provider training session, are diverse and she usually finds herself working on many different projects in any given week. Shalini also works diligently to stay abreast of national HIV/AIDS-related policy issues. A keen awareness of current policy issues helps her educate and empower women to become active members of the HIV community.
Shalini became involved in the HIV arena several years ago while assisting in the coordination of an early intervention program for HIV-positive women. When asked about what prompted her to become involved in the HIV community, Shalini admits she really “just fell into it.” However, the women she met and worked with inspired her to continue in the field. She found herself “constantly learning from their lives and stories.”
“The women I meet are so empowering; I am amazed at their sense of strength. In spite of HIV, they are still out there trying to do the best that they can. These women have taken their lives one step beyond HIV. I wish the whole world could see this.”
As a woman who is half Indian and half African American, Shalini has come to realize how HIV is affecting the lives of women in her own community. “I’ve always enjoyed educating and speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.” “I feel like I’m part of something bigger,” and for this reason, Shalini is continually motivated to work harder and do more.
In addition to educating HIV-positive women about their disease, Shalini has also had to educate her family about HIV. When she first began working with the HIV community, Shalini’s family was very concerned and had many questions – was it safe? Could Shalini become infected? Who were these women? Moreover, her family had many preconceived notions about what the typical woman with HIV was like. Shalini did not pay too much attention to her families’ concerns, instead she chose to share her experiences working with HIV-positive women, share their stories and their strengths. Shalini taught her family that their stereotypes were wrong and unfair. As a result, she has witnessed a transformation in her family. Inspired by the stories Shalini tells and her dedication to the HIV community, Shalini’s mother wrote a screenplay about HIV and is hoping to have it made into a movie in India.
Forging ahead, in hopes of answering a need in the women’s community, Shalini is brainstorming ways to build and foster a cohesive network of HIV-positive women – an environment that many women are so desperately seeking. She is troubled by a lack of cohesiveness among the women’s community – from providers to advocates – there are strong individual women, but not a community of women. Moreover, Shalini is concerned about the lack of women of color in leadership roles. When she attends meetings, she often finds that the people around the table are not representative of those being directly affected by the epidemic. Perhaps this is why she most enjoys working in the community, out of the office, where she gets a chance to have very real conversations with women infected with and affected by HIV. These conversations help her to understand that HIV-positive women have lives – it’s not just about HIV.
The women featured in our profiles are real HIV+ women and people working in the arena of HIV care. The Well Project respects and safeguards our profilee’s confidentiality – we will never reveal last names, addresses or places of employment. We may even provide an alias so that our profilee’s first names remain private. If you have any questions or comments about our profiles, please contact us.