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Organization fights HIV, drug abuse

More than 2.8 million people died from AIDS in 2005 worldwide, 38.6 million people living with AIDS worldwide and the numbers are rising, according to avert.org. But Project Choice is a program on campus that promotes AIDS awareness as well as substance abuse awareness.

The program’s goal is to make students, particularly Asian-Americans, aware of the stigmas associated with HIV and AIDS.

“Within the Asian-American community there are stigmas associated with HIV, sex, drugs and alcohol. Project Choice tries to break these stigmas and educate students to make them more comfortable talking about it,” said Ben Cabangun, a Project Choice peer advocate.

People who are most affected by HIV and AIDS are the African-American community. The second is the Latino community and third is the Asian American community.

Avert.org states, “The rate of HIV diagnoses among AsiansPacific Islanders increased by an estimated 40 percent between 2001 and 2004.”

“Specifically we are directed at Asian-Americans whose families believe they are perfect and do not have to worry about these problems,” Cabangun said.

Peer advocates for this group educate students about HIV and AIDS. The group starts a HIV 101 lecture about STDs, substance abuse and HIV. Then the group discusses how culture may affect people using substances.

Everything in the organization is student planned. The peer advocates go through five weeks of HIV and substance abuse training and take what they learned to the lectures held for students.

“We are not here to lecture people about abstinence or to not do drugs. Everyone experiments one time in their life. Members of Project Choice have experimented. We are here to make people safer with their actions and get the right information,” said Ryan Tong, a peer advocate for the group.

The group holds workshops and events at Cal State Long Beach to increase awareness and educate students.

“Many students on campus are uninformed or misinformed on how they can prevent HIV and the realities of HIV and AIDS,” Tong said.

Cabangun said, “Statistically, Asian-Americans are third, but we think it is more because they don’t check, it may shame their families.”

The Asian-American Drug Abuse Program, a non-profit program based in Los Angeles, sponsors the group. The non-profit organization works throughout Los Angeles and Long Beach, trying to make Asian-Americans aware of the problems they are facing.

“We are trying to prevent the spread of HIV and inform those who are not educated,” Tong said.

Student Health Services on campus has free HIV testing. The results of the test are confidential and will be given two weeks after the test is taken. For more information about Project Choice, visit www.myspace.com/projectchoice.

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