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StoryCorps in Oklahoma: "Coming Out to the Entire Country" with HIV (ENCORE) (Dec 02, 2011)

As part of StoryCorps in Oklahoma, Courtney Gilman tells Todd Jackson about the time she spent in the small African nation of The Gambia as a Peace Corps volunteer. She witnessed first-hand President Yahya Jammeh’s January 2007 claim he could cure HIV and AIDS.

Courtney Gilman: "My first assignment was at this reproductive health clinic. I was the program manager for people that were living with HIV. It was a support group."

Todd Jackson: "A few months ago, you played a CD for me of this band from The Gambia."

GG: "The Allatentu Support Band."

TJ: "They were in your support group. It was really awesome music. I kind of wish we had some to play."

CG: "When I first got there, the president of The Gambia had just announced that he had the cure for AIDS. And lo and behold, my project was to work with the support group of people living with HIV. And this woman, she was the lead singer, by making this album, she came out to the entire country saying that she had HIV.

The president saw this as a promotional opportunity, and in order to receive “The President’s Treatment”, which was some sort of herbal remedy, you basically had to go away from your family, and your friends, and he would keep you in this hospital. You had to get off your antiretroviral medications. Obviously it doesn’t cure the disease, but it gives you the chance to have a more prolonged life. She felt pressured, because her husband was in the military, and some of her friends were going, but she felt this pull. Eventually a car came and got her. It took her away. Within six months, she was dead.

That all happened right when I first got there, and I didn’t even know what to do. I felt like I was humanly violated, but not just me – the rest of the people I was working with. The rest of the people I was working with were dumbfounded. They knew people were trickling over there to the hospital, but they were just going along with it. There was still so much to do, and there were still lots of people to take care of, and make home visits to. They knew this other thing was going on, but all they could do was their job."

Produced for KGOU by Brian Hardzinski, with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording and collecting stories of everyday people. The Senior Producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

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