Fat Man Walking: Harvard Expert Saves Young Lives
Sexually active teens are now at greatest risk for HIV. According to the CDC, youth account for almost half of new infections. Because few get tested, the true numbers are under-reported. Only proactive, peer-led youth volunteers can best persuade their generation to act responsibly.
“Dr. John” as he is known to youth worldwide, is an unlikely foot soldier in the grassroots fight against teen HIV/AIDS. For almost twenty years he has travelled to some of the most remote locations to empower young people to take responsibility for their health, all the while suffering from degenerative diabetes and heart disease. He volunteered to lead this innovative international campaign because too many youth remain ignorant of the medical facts.
As a result of adolescent impulsiveness, mistakes are made with sometimes, deadly consequences. His demeanor is disarming for a serious professor. He has been dubbed by the media as the “Hawaiian Santa Claus” for his penchant to wear tropical shirts while walking in the poorest barrios, urban slums and rural outposts, often alone.
Dr. John uses a friendly sense of humor and big smile to engage youth during his “AIDS Attacks.” Approaching surprised teens on the streets, in markets and sports events, he says, “Hello, My name is Dr. John and I have information that can save your best friend’s life.” He believes that this approach is most effective in grabbing the attention of teens that often think of themselves as invincible and immune to adult health issues. He explains in age-appropriate ways how HIV is transmitted from one sex partner to another through blood in bodily fluids.
If questioned by a dubious teen, he emphasizes, “It is not who you are — but what you do” that brings HIV into the body. Dr. John suggests a range of options from postponing early sex to the use of condoms and says, “It is your responsibility to choose the level of risk that you are willing to accept.” When at Harvard, he first predicted in his doctoral thesis the emerging pandemic that now confronts youth in every country, every neighborhood. He set up the non-profit TeenAIDS in 1994 whose Mission Statement reads, “It is the human right of every maturing adolescent to have full access to the medical facts.” These simple words are a clarion call that honest information must be given to youth that cannot be censored or denied.
Not every nation or its authorities agree. He was arrested in Cuba, detained in Kenya, and had his materials confiscated in China. He was trailed by security police in Belarus and Vietnam, and threatened with kidnapping in Colombia. Yet Dr. John has persevered because it is his passionate belief that he and his volunteers are giving a life-saving message.
Once a successful business owner in Boston during the start of the AIDS epidemic, he saw colleagues, customers and students alive one moment and dead the next. When Marlena, a Harvard friend, complained on her deathbed that if only someone had warned her, he knew what his mission would be. He sold his business to return to Harvard. Why would a short, overweight guy with significant health issues devote his life to AIDS outreach without receiving a dime? Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and Dr. John is one for the history books.
More About This Charity
Volunteer of the Year
John Chittick for TeenAIDS – PeersCorps
It is the human right of all maturing adolescents to have full and honest access to the medically accurate information about HIV/AIDS prevention. We recognize that the most effective messengers are informed youth volunteers empowered to spread the news to friends and peers using social media and in person. Censorship of the biological facts increases the risk of HIV, not decrease it.
- This Volunteer raised $1.1 million through this Achievement
- This Volunteer raised $34,000 for their charity beneficiary in the past year
- This Volunteer helped 340,000 people through this Achievement
- This Volunteer helped 60,000 people in the past year year
United States, China, Brazil, Congo, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Russia, India, South Africa, Syria, Kenya, Sudan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cuba