When his best friend committed suicide after finding out he was HIV positive, everything changed for Constantine Mastrikov.
“There is so much stigma associated with HIV, and he couldn’t handle it,” says Constantine, a 25-year-old car mechanic from Abadan, near Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. “I had to prevent that happening to anyone else.”
Constantine now works in his free time as a volunteer for the Turkmenistan Red Crescent, talking to 17 and 18 year olds to educate them about HIV and drug safety issues. As a former injecting drug user himself, Constantine is well placed to talk from experience.
Educating young people
“We go to discos and schools, or anywhere young people hang out,” Constantine says. “At first, most people’s reactions are cold, but we keep going back to the same places and eventually they open up.”
Constantine also offers counselling and support to young people with sexual health problems, like sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “One young person recently got an STI, and I supported him through his treatment in hospital. He was put in an isolation ward and really appreciated the help – information on sexual health can be hard to find.”
The British Red Cross and the Turkmenistan Red Crescent have worked together on HIV prevention issues since 2002. The results have been impressive so far: between 2002 and 2009, the programme reached over 81,500 people; over 500 volunteers were trained; and more than 2,000 training courses have been held reaching almost 40,000 students.
What motivates Constantine to stay as a volunteer? “It’s nice to make people happy,” he says. “I want everyone to have a healthy life.”