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Trinity Project: A faith-based approach to HIV/AIDS education

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Geneva Galloway, above, is director of the Trinity Project, a federally funded HIV/Aids prevention program that is operated by the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN). (Photo by Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)

For more than a year, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) has been quietly working in a handful of Charlotte churches to halt the spread of HIV/Aids.

Next month, the organization’s federally funded Trinity Project will join The Park Church in co-hosting a prayer service for individuals infected with the virus. The March 5 event will coincide with the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of Aids, an annual effort spearheaded by The Balm In Gilead, which has a stated mission of preventing diseases and improving the health status of people of the African Diaspora.

A guest speaker at the event will be Tarsha Hamilton, wife of R&B singer Anthony Hamilton, who is expected to share how HIV/AIDS has devastated her own family. The service starts at 6:45 p.m. at The Park’s west Charlotte campus (6029 Beatties Ford Road).

Qcitymetro recently sat with Geneva Galloway, director of the Trinity Project, to talk about her work. The Q&A below is based on that interview. Her answers were edited for brevity and clarity.

Qcitymetro: What is the Trinity Project?

Geneva Galloway: The Trinity Project is a federally funded project that goes into churches to educate women about the spread of HIV/AIDS. It’s a female-based project. We go into churches and train females of the church — mothers of the church, first ladies of the church — we train them to go back into their congregations and educate other women of the church (about HIV/AIDS). We do that by having monthly sessions and weekly sessions in the church. We know that the church is very instrumental when it comes to people living with the virus. There were 88 applicants for this grant, and RAIN received one of the grants out of three other states. I think we received it because Mecklenburg has the highest rate of infection in the whole state of North Carolina. (Each week, eight to 10 new infections are reported in the county.) It’s a three-year project, and we’re in year two. The idea is that once we educate the women in the congregation, the women will take the information home to their spouses and to their children. And once they do that within their own households, they will then take it to the general community and it will bring down the (HIV/AIDS) numbers in the community. We have 25 churches enrolled in the program in Mecklenburg so far. We have another training session in April, and we have another six churches waiting for that training.

What, specifically, does the training involve?

We train them on the myths and misconceptions of how a person can get HIV. We train them about negotiation skills concerning condom use, what’s the proper way to use a condom, just being able to talk with your partner about being safe. We get very specific with it. That is challenging sometimes in the church, so some of our churches prefer not to use the tools that we have, but they do speak on it. The Trinity Project becomes a sisterhood, because there are a lot of things that we talk about that you couldn’t talk about in another ministry in the church. Some of them have formed groups where they might go to see a movie or have just fellowship among themselves.

Why target mature church women? They aren’t at much risk of getting infected, are they?

Sure they are. Some of the highest rates of infection right now involve people over 50 years old. Those numbers are off the chain, believe it or not. A lot of people don’t think of the elderly populations, but we have some high rates there.

Given the many needs of individuals suffering with HIV/AIDS, why focus on a week of prayer?

In the HIV world, I hope it’s not just a week actually. In the HIV world, I would hope that people pray for individuals every day. Outside of medicine, outside of doctors visits, outside of transportations issues — outside of all of that — an individual living with the virus needs to know that there’s a little more to it, that there are people who have compassion for how they have to live their lives, and they do that through prayer. Our motto is, “Celebrating our Mind, our Body and our Spirit.” So in order for me to blend that together, the participants who are going to be in the prayer service, I’ve asked them to pray for the mind of someone living with the virus, pray that their body allows them to get up and walk every day, and then to pray for their spirit. HIV and AIDS have a heavy stigma attached to it, and I think the church is very powerful and can be instrumental in keeping someone grounded when it come to dealing with and living with the virus.

Has the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS improved at all? Do you still hear stories of victims being abandoned even by family members?

I have been doing this for over 20 years now, and I have definitely seen a change, and maybe it’s because I made a decision to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. But I think there has been a change through education. Families are learning more about how to help those living with the virus. Through education there has been caregiver training, there have been support groups. Through education, the fear is not as (bad) as it used to be. You still have those families that isolate that individual. You still have that, but I think there are more families that are willing to support and step out and say, “How can I help?”

In terms of access, do you find black churches willing to embrace this program?

Initially, I thought it was going to be very difficult because you’re talking about such a sensitive topic. Not only are you talking about HIV education, you’re talking about sex education. In churches, to talk about sex alone is difficult, and here I go talking about HIV on top of that. So I went in with an open mind, very, very prayerful, and I was surprised that churches, especially African American churches, were really open to receiving it. So I can honestly say that maybe there have been two that, because the project was not specifically bringing people to Christ or it wasn’t specifically training individual on abstinence, didn’t get involved. Overall, the success has been awesome. I would note, too, that the Trinity Project is not exclusive to African American churches. We’re following the numbers, and right now the numbers for HIV are in the African American community. And so we literally take a map and we target zip codes, because we know where those numbers are. The last graduating class, we had four African churches. The next class we’re looking for some Catholic churches to see that that dynamic will be.

How do you measure success?

I measure success against the fact that first ladies in the church are very busy. It’s great for the federal government to say we need to train the female leaders and first ladies, but in the African American churches, those women are so busy that it’s hard for them to go through a five-week training. So what I do now is suggest to the pastor that we also train health ministry women. Within the project we have surveys, we have evaluations, we collect data, we get pre-assessments from the church. The pre-test shows how much they know. Then at the end we give them a post-test, and that’s how we measure our outcomes.

To learn more about RAIN and the Trinity Project, visit www.carolinarain.org.

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October 9, 2015
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