Shanti director prepares for World AIDS Day

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Eileen Wilson, director of Shanti of Southeast Alaska, is celebrating World AIDS Day by staging a one-woman educational blitz.

Wilson became director of Shanti on Oct. 1, after serving for a year as a volunteer with the nonprofit organization. For 15 years, Shanti, based in Juneau, has provided HIV and AIDS services and prevention programs from Yakutat to Metlakatla.

Every week, Wilson does one-on-one risk assessments on Tuesday morning at Juneau Recovery Hospital. On Mondays, she teaches an HIV education class called "Be Proud, Be Responsible" at Johnson Youth Center, the state's juvenile jail in Juneau. On Wednesday morning of this week, as part of her blitz, she spoke at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. On Friday, she's speaking at Floyd Dryden Middle School, and she'll appear before University of Alaska Southeast students next Monday.

Wilson is coordinating a candlelight vigil and memorial concert to be held from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, World AIDS Day, at McPhetres Hall. The Juneau Pride Chorus, guitarists and the Children of All Nations Native dance group will perform. Wilson will speak briefly, as will the Rev. Larry Olson.

"People can talk about AIDS victims they want to remember," she said. Shanti, she points out, is the Sanskrit word for inner peace.

"We are the only HIV/AIDS place in town," Wilson said. "My goal is to have the whole city wearing red ribbons on Saturday. My ultimate goal is to be out of a job because that means the disease is stopping here."

As of Dec. 31, 2000, 781 cases of HIV infection were reported in Alaska, 647 cases in men and 134 in women. Most of Wilson's clients range in age from 25 to 44 and were infected when they were younger.

"Seventeen people in Juneau are officially diagnosed with AIDS and 45 are HIV-positive," she said. "Statistically, for the size of Juneau, this is pretty average. But it scares me that, of the 17, all were drunk or high when they were infected."

When she visits the Johnson Youth Center to talk about risk factors for contracting the sexually-transmitted disease, she meets with skepticism.

"I try to make them understand that drinking a beer is a risk factor," Wilson said.

A decade ago, the most common transmission of the AIDS virus in Juneau as elsewhere was when men had sex with men, Wilson said.

"But that has changed, and we are working more with Native women and drug users," she said. "Women are 20 times more likely to become infected through sex than men. You throw substance abuse at bars into the equation, and people wake up the next day with a stranger and HIV."

At its 222 Seward St. office, Shanti has books to lend parents, and Wilson will appear at home schools or groups. She can be reached at 463-5665. The Shanti Web site is at www.ptialaska.net/~shanti.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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