This article was published as part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who give back in their communities.
Daniela Iris Brissett is the Co-Director and Co-Founder of Roatan Peer Health Exchange. She is also a Fourth Year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco. Read the full interview below with Daniela to learn what inspires her to give.
Q1: How do you give back?
I am the co-founder and co-director of the Roatan Peer Health Exchange. Roatan is a small island off the eastern coast of Honduras that unfortunately boasts one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STIs in Central America. Family planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and is a proven key factor in reducing poverty. Roatán Peer Health Exchange was created to spread family planning options and education to the entire island of Roatán. By enabling women to delay pregnancy, avoid childbearing, or space births, our program is not only important to women’s health but also their upward mobility, advancing women’s education and economic self-sufficiency. In partnership with the island’s only HIV clinic ‘Familias Saludables,’ the public health care system and the Department of Education, our peer health curriculum emphasizes a rights-based approach to reproductive health care promotion and provision, empowering participants to make free, informed and voluntary decisions about their reproductive health and behavior. Our teenagers, whom come from diverse backgrounds, engage in peer teaching with other teenagers by reviewing topics such as gender, STDs, and domestic violence taught to them by Honduran medical students. They in turn have empowered nearly 1000 youth their age, taught at a number of schools, and hosted both a HIV/AIDs awareness and Women’s Health Day in just under 6 months. This works stems from similar volunteer experiences I have had in adolescent health programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hope to continue promoting the advancement of otherwise marginalized adolescent groups —women, LGBTQI, STD/HIV —infected persons, disabled - to better our entire community, both here and abroad.
Q2: What inspired you to start giving?
Youth hold, within their dreams and goals, our world’s tomorrow. Growing up, I had a number of people, who invested in me. I learned from them how best to leverage the only currency I had in abundance, my education. Later in life I have found that the best way to empower youth is through text books. As a child, I was surrounded not by big mansions or fancy cars, but rather people, from my ever so self-less after school program teacher to community advocates to my mother, whom would bring into our very cozy home youth that were displaced.. It was this that inspired me: people who had little to give, but often gave plenty.
Q3: What does giving mean to you? Why do you continue to give your time, talents, money, or more to your community?
Giving is often described as selfless, but admittedly, for me, prior to any volunteer experience, I pause to think “what will I learn from the people, the community that I hope to serve.” Education is priceless, and in giving you learn in abundance. This even applies to helping paint school walls around the corner from your home. While initially a you may not have been an advocate for painting walls today, you might just walk away from the experience an advocate for creating safe education spaces tomorrow. All it takes is listening to the community, and in volunteering you get this front row seat to an educational experience not taught in classrooms.
Q4: What would you tell others who are looking to start giving back? Share a piece of advice will help them get started.
For those looking to give back, I would recommend leaving all at the door. Naturally, when we enter a space in need, we want to fix things at our speed, our way. Often, we utilize the only resources we have at our disposal, those learned and gained from our past. However, from my experiences, communities - broadly defined to include entire countries to schools just around the corner from your home - often already have the answers, they just need help in obtaining resources to get there.
Q5: Please share a favorite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.
My favorite moment thus far has to be just over a year ago, when we had launched the Roatan Peer Health Exchange. Myself and the local director were traveling by bus having just come from a ‘charla’, a community educational event, and were discussing just how happy we were on our bus ride home. A young woman, who we would later find out was 17 years old, turned back and asked “what are you all talking about?” She had taken it upon herself to inquire about our youth program, and now over a year later she is one of our star ambassadors. She has become an amazing public speaker, our best recruiter for additional youth members, and is now studying to be a lawyer. To touch the life of just one young person, by empowering them to see their potential, well, that is beautiful.