In a recent trip to Sao Paulo, I met Fernanda, a pro-bono lawyer who works with Grupo Incentivo a Vida, or GIV.
GIV is supported by the Levi Strauss Foundation to offer free legal aid to people affected by HIV/AIDS, with a focus on low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“Too often, the real issue is that people don’t know their basic legal rights or where to get help,” Fernanda told me. “My role is to empower our clients – whether it’s connecting them to vital services such as HIV treatment, or helping them defend against discrimination they may face at the workplace or when applying for public benefits.”
Witty and energetic, Fernanda’s personal commitment to GIV’s clients is striking: faces lighten up the moment she enters the community center. While many of them face fear and harassment in their daily lives, it’s clear that they feel safe and accepted inside GIV’s drop-in center.
GIV has also been at the forefront of the national movement for universal access to affordable HIV medications in Brazil. Its reputation for championing the needs of vulnerable groups is known by activists around the globe.
While Brazil has created a comprehensive response to the epidemic, the United Nations reports high levels of stigma and discrimination in community and healthcare.
“Through our partnership with the Levi Strauss Foundation, we sensitize lawyers, health professionals and community advocates about the facts and legal realities surrounding HIV/AIDS,” Fernanda said. “Mobilizing these key populations means more people can live with dignity and respect, not to mention access life-saving services.”
Fernanda and the team at GIV are passionate about what they do, and they’re fearless in their commitment to help people affected by HIV/AIDS. They provide a moving reminder that true pioneers don’t sit and wait for the landscape to change. They change it as they go.