The United States Peace Corps video Come Home Healthy is worthy of replication by other international structures
01 / 1999
The film "Come Home Healthy" is in fact 22 minutes of powerful emotion. Produced in 1995 by Peace Corps, a development organisation of the United States, "Come Home Healthy" is an outstanding resource when it comes to helping volunteers to protect themselves from HIV infection during their service abroad.
The film does not go into any kind of biomedical or epidemiological detail on HIV/AIDS, and it does not contain a presentation of the means of HIV transmission or of classic prevention methods.
Rather, "Come Home Healthy" introduces us to and allows us to become closely familiar with the thoughts and feelings of five former Peace Corps volunteers who came home with HIV. The three women and two men tell their personal stories and issue strong appeals to the volunteers of today not to make the same mistakes they made, not to fall into the same traps.
Through their statements, the former volunteers make it clear that at the beginning of their service abroad they were indeed well informed about the dangers of HIV and knew how to protect themselves. The film, which is shown to volunteers as part of their in-service training, places particular emphasis on the reasons why each of the five let down his or her guard.
One of those reasons is loneliness. Many volunteers are stationed in remote villages and have little or no contact with their friends and family from home. They are trying hard to get used to a new language, a new culture, and the sense of isolotion can be overwhelming. One of the men in the film says, "Eventually, you break down; you seek companionship. Loneliness certainly had something to do with it. A lot of the time, I just wanted to be with someone."
Another key reason why risks were taken, cited especially by the three women in the film, has to do with the power of love and the irrational trust that it can engender. According to one of them, "I was so safe when I was exploring my sexuality, but then when I was in a loving relationship, my guard went down." Another says, "In my heart, I felt that he was a really good person. And because of the respect and the slow pace we took, I just felt this was right."
The excitement of being in an exotic, international relationship is also cited as a reason for not having been careful. "He pressured me not to use condoms. I kind of accepted that, though I didn’t have to. It was a cross-cultural relationship; it was exciting to me."
Around the world, it is not uncommon to come across materials and activities on HIV prevention that are sound when it comes to presenting relevant facts but absolutely worthless with regard to touching people emotionally. In order for prevention programs to succeed, we must reach out to individuals in their entirety, appealing to as many aspects of their being as possible. One of the five volunteers in the films says, "I didn’t internalize the emotion enough that it changed my behavior. It wasn’t until the time that I was diagnosed that I became fully aware of the choice/consequence concept."
It is hard to imagine that anyone could watch "Come Home Healthy" and not be deeply moved on an emotional level. The film does a brilliant job of helping volunteers to pre-vision potential hazards (i.e., it provides invaluable material for the cognitive side of us), and its emotional impact is such that profound internalization is inevitable.
None of the five volunteers in the film gives any clear indication as to where he or she had been stationed, and as a result the message is sent that all volunteers, no matter where they may be in the world, are vulnerable and must be careful. Furthermore, the lack of geographic specificity in the film means that it can be used as part of prevention activities around the globe.
This particular film is an extraordinary tool not only for Peace Corps volunteers; it has also been used to great effect with groups of other young Americans who are just beginning an extended stay abroad. We feel that the development organisations of other countries, as well as foreign ministries and major corporations that station large numbers of people abroad, should be strongly advised to explore whether or not this film or a new, culturally specific film based on the "Come Home Healthy" model, would be a valuable addition to their own preventive health programs.
For further information in countries where PEACE CORPSis represented, contact the resident Medical Officer. One can also contact the Office of Medical Services, Peace Corps, 1990 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20526, USA. Tel (1-800)424-8580, ext. 2290.
RADTKE, Sandra D., United States Peace Corps, Come Home Healthy, In order to gain insights into the use and value of the film in the context of < PEACE CORPS>in Senegal, I spoke with < RENIERS, Kathy>a Peace Corps Health Volunteer currently based in Dakar.
GDT (The Global Dialogues Trust) - B.P. 11589, Dakar, SENEGAL. Tél : (0221)824 97 65 Bureau du Burkina Faso: 06 B.P. 9342, Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO Bureau du Royaume-Uni: c/o SJS, 7 Allison Court, Metro Centre, Gateshead NE11 9YS, UNITED KINGDOM - Senegal - www.globaldialogues.org - firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com