Strategies for Supporting MSM in the Caribbean: Kenneth Van Emden Discusses SMU's Work in Suriname

Published: December 18, 2012

Part of the purpose of the MSMGF Blog is to share strategies for promoting the health and human rights of MSM. This week’s blog post comes from Kenneth Van Emden of Suriname Men United (SMU). Kenneth discusses SMU’s efforts to use community-based research to guide its programs, as well as examples of SMU’s work to fight discrimination and promote health through national media campaigns, direct service provision, and coalition building.



My name is Kenneth Van Emden; I am a 39 year old gay man living in Suriname.Together with two other gay men we started Suriname Men United (SMU). The idea for this organization was born during The Community Mobilization and Participatory Approaches to HIV / AIDS Conference, in Trinidad & Tobago. During this conference we were confronted with problems gay men face in the Caribbean. At the time, there were no programs or organizations working for gay men in Suriname. With some lobbying work, we got our legal entity on the 1st of November 2005, and then launched SMU on the 1st of December 2011 – World AIDS Day.

The goal of Suriname Men United is to gain insight into the health and social conditions of MSM, as well as enhance social acceptance and create socioeconomic independence for MSM.

We aim to reach our goals by:
  • Carrying out scientifically sound research into the living conditions/social circumstances of our target group;
  • Distributing information;
  • Initiating, implementing and monitoring a plan of action;
  • Contributing towards/assisting in the introduction of legislation banning discrimination;
  • Giving information to the Surinamese community and specific groups on subjects of relevance to the target group;
  • Promoting/advancing and looking after the personal interests of the target group, with the support of third parties;
  • Carrying out all activities considered necessary in promoting the interests of the target group;
  • Working together with national and international groups and organizations capable of supporting and further expanding the association’s interests.

Cooperation with Schorer Nederland Foundation
In 2007, we established a four year cooperation with Schorer Nederland, a Gay and Lesbian organization in Holland which began in 2007 and ended in 2011.  We began by implementing a needs assessment to gain insight into what MSM in Suriname needed.  We implemented the needs assessment among 100 gay men and other MSM. We divided the group into 70 openly gay men and 30 “closet cases” also known as: “down-low men.”  Here are some results from the assessments:
  • A need for psycho social care services
  • Health messages through the media and internet
  • Support groups
  • Theme events
  • Information and communication materials specifically designed for MSM.

Activities
SMU has conducted activities both on a community and governmental level. All of the activities were linked with the results from the needs assessment.  A health message and a clip promoting the organization and its services were developed and aired on national TV. This resulted in MSM contacting the organization for services like psychosocial care, counseling and even testing. For situations in which we do not provide services, we refer individuals to specific institutions.

In 2009, the website www.surinamemenunited.com was launched. This was one of the results from our needs assessment, where closeted MSM stated that they like to keep their identity private but at the same time receive health messages through a forum where there privacy is not interrupted. Several theme events and support groups were held to advance knowledge of HIV/AIDS, human rights issues, self-acceptance, and empowerment within the MSM community.  

Suriname Men United would like to promote healthy lifestyles, therefore in 2010 and 2011 we hosted a gay aerobathon where MSM and their allies could exercise and socialize. During our last aerobathon, organizations working with MSM could share their work with the community and also share their knowledge regarding HIV / AIDS and other important health and human rights issues.

For the first time in March 2010, SMU participated in an anti – discrimination week. Individuals demonstrated with groups of LGBT people holding signs which displayed messages such as: “Gay is ok” and “No discrimination against LGBT.” This was the first time we took to the streets and paraded to gain attention and awareness about gay rights


One of our major activities was a media campaign to urge two dancehall artists from Jamaica who are known for the homophobic lyrics in their songs to adjust their repertoire. A phone company was going to celebrate their first anniversary with performances by these two artists. Thanks to a very powerful lobbying campaign – where we included both community members and LGBT people, the phone company’s event was successful and free from homophobic lyrics.

In the area of prevention, a group of outreach workers regularly visit gay clubs and other cruising sites to distribute condoms and lubricants. One on one intervention is also a part of these visits.

 SMU has developed a quarterly newsletter, with information on human rights, safe sex, and homosexuality. This started in December 2009. The newsletter was distributed among schools and ministries of health, foreign affairs, justice, policy and any other NGO in the Dutch and US embassies working in the HIV/AIDS field. It was also picked up by some local television stations and youth organizations to inform the Surinamese community about issues related to homosexuality. 

Networks
One of the strengths of SMU is networking. In four years’ time we were able to build a strong network with national, regional and international organizations, both non-governmental and governmental:
 
National
  • The National AIDS program provides both technical and financial assistance.
  • Stichting Lobi, which is a family planning and parenthood organization.
  • Stichting Maxilinder, nowadays referred to as the Rachab Foundation works with male and female sex workers.
  •  The Dutch Embassy; we began our work together by organizing a movie and discussing the event on the 10th of December 2010, International Human Rights day.
  •  In June 2009, The US Embassy invited all LGBT organizations in Suriname to a luncheon celebrating pride month.
  •  Both the UNDP and UNFPA have involved SMU in projects regarding Human Rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights.
  • The Tuberculosis Office in Suriname also involves SMU to create tuberculosis free environments for MSM in Suriname.
Regional
  • CARIFLAGS, which is an LGBT organization that works to strengthen organizations in the Caribbean for Human Rights and Health.
  • Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) which aims to empower the human rights and health status of LGBT people in the Caribbean.
SMU Team

The team of SMU consists of a director, office assistant, 3 board members, 5 outreach workers, a psychosocial care provider, a coach, and a financial officer

 
SMU Contacts
Email: suriname_men_united@yahoo.com
Website: www.surinamemenunited.com

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