Sun, sea, sand, hospitable people, a tourist's paradise...That's only part of the story. The other part is of a region uncomfortable with open discussion on sexuality. This has made grasping HIV by the throat, rather difficult. A highly conservative region with a proliferation of religions, this Region bears the excesses permissible at Carnival time but is uncomfortable with discussion on the right to quality health care of its soi-disant hidden populations - sex workers, men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users and persons living with the virus.
Our politicians say all the right things but lack emphatic action. No news there to anyone but unlike most regions, the Caribbean has no shortage of capacity nor donor funding nor commitment to policy change. We have it all except the will to act with a sense of urgency. As a region second to sub-Saharan Africa in HIV incidence, we are plagued by the old shibboleths - stratification along class and colour lines; disapproval of difference; disregard of other ways of being that a 'good society' would not approve of; rampant stigma and discrimination; conversations that are not rights-based but tied to 'who knows you and who you know'.
Change though is coming. Burying our heads in the sand is proving more and more difficult as more activists up their commitment to be heard. People are being forced to acknowledge those issues which they could once have ignored. I have hope. I love my region with all its complexity. No tiny island is a mirror image of the other. Each must be carefully understood so the right approach applies. Most people coming in to the Caribbean see us as one happy melting pot of 5M people. This is simply not so.
We are a highly literate region but not peas in a pod. Some speak English, others Spanish, Creole, Patois, French, Mandarin and German. Finding a rallying point for such variety has always been a challenge. We had invested our pride heavily in our West Indies(a.k.a Caribbean) Cricket Team but poor succession planning meant that when the stars of the Team dimmed, there were few competent enough to take up the mantle. We're getting there once again but the Region shares the pain of no longer trouncing England easily, or Australia or India. Into this add a virus which is rooted in one's sexuality and one understands why the Caribbean shies away from further emotional pain.
Part of the answer lies in helping the Region to understand and accept its own vulnerability. Another part lies in helping people upend the legacy of seeing each other as lacking in some way - not bright enough, pretty enough, fair enough, rich enough...When these points are made with empathy and humour, people own them and in so doing, often commit to doing things differently. I really feel that we can benefit from the SALT approach, creating managers of our own competence. I am delighted to be part of the process of deeper engagement of Caribbean peoples everywhere.