What happens when you take 29 youth, 2 adults, 18 gallons of paint, one wall, one week and put them all together? You guessed it, a mural. Add in lots of tropical sunshine, loads of sweat equity, tons of passion and commitment, and enormous amounts of spirit, and the mural becomes a work of art and a work for change.
The WYM HIV Mural is located on a long wall on the main road that circles the island. It is in the island community of Flower’s Bay, where World Youth Movement is based. In order to go almost anywhere on this side of the island you must go past this wall. On a cruise ship day approximately 3,500 islanders and tourists pass this wall on their way to swim on this island’s beaches and snorkel the Meso-American reef. This wall is a message from the heart of the youth to their community, words of positive encouragement for heartfelt challenge.
The youth’s message? HIV is rampant in our community: we have the power to change that. Our community is silent about this “sickness”: we are going to stand up and talk about it. Our community has shunned many who are HIV positive or who have died from AIDS: we will honor them, and we will embrace those who are HIV positive in our communities, on our island.
One young mural painter said, “You know if we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first.” Those truthful words then went on the wall. As we were painting and talking about our message, the community was talking, too.
One of the main messages in the mural is ‘talk about it’. If the wall makes you happy, talk about it, if the mural makes you angry, talk about it, if it makes you sad or confused or you just don’t get it, talk about it. This wasn’t our first thought for a theme. When the teens first got together and discussed ideas, our main themes were embracing HIV positive members in the community (‘be careful who you hate, because it might be someone you love,’ and ‘HIV affects everyone’) and the theme of knowledge is power: respect/protect yourself. But there were some, who as we were painting saw the statistic that approximately one out of ten islanders is HIV positive, and were outraged. Things were said: You cannot write that. Its not true (but it is), what will people say? (maybe they’ll start talking about it, that’s our goal), you’ll make people angry! (Are you angry? Lets talk about it.) Talk about it became the abiding conclusion to everything that we were saying on the wall! Everyday hundreds and hundreds of local islanders see the mural as they pass by on foot, bicycle, scooter, and vehicle. Everyday new parts of the mural are being noticed. Everyday someone is talking about HIV and AIDs in Roatan because of this mural. Every day conversations are being had where silence once was.
Many have been silent because the stigma of being HIV positive here is horrible. Many have been ostracized, fired, abandoned, or beaten because of their HIV status. Just as there were those who were taken aback by the flagrancy of painting the truth on the mural there are also so many who walked by the wall as we were painting and said, “Thank you. Thank you for doing this.”
The dedication says, “This mural is for those we have lost and are still losing.” It’s for the youth who are being the change in their own communities. It’s for the power that comes to the youth when they are speaking out and speaking up. It’s for the power that comes from accepting and honoring our neighbors. The mural embodies youth empowerment. In the end, that empowers others too.