Helping commit to a cause, raising awareness

HARLINGEN — After more than 20 years, Oscar Lopez is back at the Valley AIDS Council.

He’s doing what he loves, teaching people how to avoid contracting AIDS. As the director of education, he’s perfectly primed for that task, especially considering his broad range of experience. That experience came knocking on his door numerous times.

Those opportunities didn’t care he had only one year of college behind him.

They cared about his passion and effectiveness at the job. And he had that, as he still does.

“My primary responsibility is to raise awareness of HIV, how people become infected,” said Lopez, 49. “In using that, we can draw them in to get tested and to make HIV testing a routine part of their health care.”

He said with a team of only 12, they can’t reach everyone. Therefore he networks with local media outlets.

“If you include the folks that live in the colonias, we’re talking about 1.7 million folks with the size of Vermont and North Dakota combined,” he said.

Generating conversations between neighbors over coffee helps spread the word. Anytime an opportunity presents itself to bring up the subject, someone should initiate the discussion, he said.

One stumbling block to AIDS education is that Texas only allows the teaching of abstinence rather than safe sex, condoms, and family planning.

“We are the only state in the United States where the education that happens in classrooms does not have to be science based, nor does it have to be factual,” he said. “It’s so bad that many schools don’t even touch the subject.”

However, things seem to be changing.

“We’re now being allowed back into some schools,” he said. “And we’re being allowed to discuss abstinence but in conjunction with the use of condoms. Because, we know abstinence doesn’t work for everybody. If that were the case, you wouldn’t have to have entire schools dedicated to pregnant girls.”