|“We need to see much more caring of each other; we need to see more community care for its member we can do it as Belizeans. HIV can be beaten once we come together as a community and care for each other.”
Growing up, we stumble on many things in life that become our love, interest, hobbies, and the very essence of our lives. Some choose to work hard to become the best lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs. Others dedicate themselves to being the perfect housewife, husband, or student. Yes, our career and lives intertwine into a perfect balance that dedicating time to others becomes difficult. Making others a top priority becomes even harder in our hectic day to day lives. One person who found a passion for helping others and has chosen this as a career path is no other than Founder and now the Executive Director of the Alliance Against AIDS – Rodel Beltran Perera.
On May 13th, 1956, Jose Perera and Lilia Carmona Beltran welcomed their loving child to this world. Born into a family of two brothers and four sisters, Rodel recalls fondly the yearly excursions to St. George’s Caye. The islet located on the outskirts of Belize City, was a perfect getaway for the family. “I remember going there for our birthdays. Getting there on a slow motor boat while we enjoyed the gentle breeze and anticipated the wonderful time that we would have,” reminisced Rodel.
After graduating from Holy Redeemer Elementary, Rodel enrolled in the all male St. John’s High School where he developed a fondness for the Sciences, namely Biology. “At that time, it was either the Sciences or Industrial and for some reason I thought that I would not be very good with a saw, hammer or any kind of heavy machinery.”
Successfully completing his education at St. John’s, Rodel was invited, by family members, to move to New Orleans, Louisiana. There he got an even bigger opportunity which he accepted in a heartbeat. Enrolled at Delgado Community College he pursued the General Studies field with a major in Pre-Nursing. “I always felt that I was good at caring for people, working with people and serving people and that is what I wanted to do,” commented Rodel.
Returning home, Rodel was employed in the hospitality industry for a while working in a couple hotels in the Belize District. In 1982, however he was offered a position at Radio Belize after meeting people at an Independence Day celebration. Rodel became a Junior Reporter and told The San Pedro Sun that the stories he enjoyed covering were the hurricanes and accidents. “I enjoyed the excitement of it all but what I loved the most was that these stories although sad and troubling brought you closer to people. You learned about their feelings, lives and the impacts that these changes would have on them. The human aspect of it enthralled me,” Rodel explained. “Hurricanes brought communities together and the struggle, fight and will to survive would become evident.”
During Rodel’s tenure at Radio Belize part of his responsibility included listening to foreign news broadcasts, including the BBC and Voice of America on their worldwide news service. Through these newscasts he became aware of the Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome (GRIDS), the acronym given to the HIV related disease back then which evolved in the disease named Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome AIDS. This is how his life long passion for this cause started.
In 1986, a good friend of his was the first women to be diagnosed in Belize with the disease. “She was the first woman to succumb to this disease and I learned so much from her.”
In the late 80’s, Rodel attended a conference for Regional Caribbean journalists in St. Lucia on the media’s role and how they could get involved in responding to this very sensitive issue. During that time, having learned more at the conference, he volunteered his time on this issue to a greater extent.
In 1995 he and a number of friends started talking about the formation of an organization that would concentrate on providing services to People with AIDS. All the while, Rodel remained an employee of Radio Belize, gaining promotion until he became News Director in 1997. His passion for AIDS never waned and in 1997 he found the much needed support through HIVOS, out of the Netherlands.
In September 1997, Alliance Against AIDS was formed and registered as a Non-governmental Organization. “When we began the AAA, it was difficult. Information about the epidemic was hard to accept for some people. There was a lot of denial from the public about this disease, about the fact that they believed that it did not exist or that it would only happen to Gays, or people from Haiti or from Africa. At that time, Government played a small role in disseminating this information or being proactive on this particular issue.”
Rodel says “Since 1997 a good amount of people have gotten involved including agencies, communities, people on whole have gotten involved in the fight against AIDS, we still need more people to join.” He adds that “Government is now investing more money in its response to the pandemic, the Ministry of Education invests money in education and the Labor Department works closely with employers and employees about how HIV affects the workplace. “HIV/AIDS information is now disseminated to rural areas. We have come a long way.”
“What the AAA, once began with 15 professionals, including doctors, teachers, lawyers and journalists has now become a strong force. Alliance Against AIDS has really become a force to contend with in the area of service and education on HIV and AIDS.”
AAA organizes and promotes workshops and many activities aimed at training volunteers. A hotline number has been established were people with questions and concerns can call and know that their information will remain confidential.
In the near future, in Belize Rodel says we will have a law to protect people living with HIV/AIDS. “People suffering from this disease experience ill treatment and negative responses wherever they live, work, socialize or access. What we seek is better treatment. People need to understand what stigma and discrimination is, that HIV is something anyone can catch, no matter what. People with this disease still have rights and need to be respected and deserve proper treatment.”
In his free time, Rodel enjoys reading and watching movies. If his work at AAA was not stressful and time consuming enough, Rodel is also affiliated with the Women’s Issues Network and forms part of the Board of Directors for Haven House, a shelter for battered women. “We need to see much more caring of each other, we need to see more community care for its member we can do it as Belizeans we Belizeans are not cold hearted and if we practice the warmth of caring we can grow as a nation that cares for each other. HIV can be beaten once we come together as a community and care for each other,” ends Rodel. Always looking for a way to help those in need, having a passion that crosses boundaries and reaches the very depth of the lives of the Belizean populace, Rodel Beltran Perera is a true advocate in “Our Belize Community.”