May 15 2003 12:00 AM EST
November 17 2015 6:13 AM EST
Olga Hernandez is quick to point out what spurred her into HIV prevention work'boredom. Hernandez, a housewife in Sunland Park, N.M., says her nearly decade-long career in HIV prevention education with the Las Cruces, N.M.'based group Mujeres Unidas en Acci'n Contra el SIDA (Women in Action Against AIDS) began by wanting to break the monotony of being a full-time homemaker. 'It was better for me to be out there doing something important for other housewives than to be sitting in my house watching television,' she says. 'So when a friend asked me to participate in the group, I did.' Hernandez joined the agency about nine years ago as a volunteer, speaking to other homemakers in the area'which includes El Paso, Tex., and Ciudad Ju'rez, Mexico'about HIV risk reduction. But she quickly realized that the cultural heritage of Hispanic women made prevention work much more difficult than simply presenting the basics of safer sex and condom use. 'Hispanic women are taught not to talk about our sexuality,' she explains. 'We're afraid to express our feelings. We're afraid to talk about condoms. Sometimes Hispanic women have sex even if we don't want to or if we're putting ourselves at risk, because we're taught that we have to accept anything that our husbands or boyfriends want. So I spend a lot of time talking with the ladies and helping them to develop the self-esteem they need to be able to negotiate condom use or to just say no.' Hernandez has served the past three years as coordinator of the agency, now a part of the charitable group Families and Youth Inc. The organization continues to work with women in the region but has expanded its services to include adolescents and teenagers, groups that Hernandez says need many of the same skills and tools as do Hispanic homemakers. 'You can't just give information; you have to give them the tools they need to change their behaviors,' says Hernandez, the mother of three adolescents. 'That includes building self-esteem, teaching them to respect their bodies, and teaching them to be able to communicate with each other.'