As the AIDS epidemic took its toll on the multi-ethnic community of South Florida, a high rate of HIV infection was observed among Haitians living in Miami-Dade County. Confusion about the causes of these cases among Haitians led scientists and the general public to consider "being Haitian" as a risk factor for contracting and transmitting HIV. Because of this systematic blame on their nationality, Haitians reacted by perceiving AIDS as a conspiracy against them because they were unwanted immigrants in the United States. CHS's community roots created a place for the agency as one that could be trusted by Haitian Americans who felt stigmatized elsewhere. One of the goals of CHS was to improve the conditions of those affected by HIV in the Haitian community. During that period, CHS laid the foundation of what has become the only nationally known successful counseling program for Haitian Americans affected by HIV/AIDS. Providers in other cities with large populations of Haitians, including Port-au-Prince, New York, Boston and Montreal, have used this model to provide these types of services to Haitians.

Given the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the Haitian community, CHS's growing caseload of clients receiving services was an outstanding accomplishment for the agency. During a visit by the National AIDS Committee in 1996, a number of CHS clients communicated eloquently to the White House delegation their frustration, the pain they endured dealing with HIV, and the lack of resources available to them in the community. They discussed the deficiencies in the system and made suggestions about changes they would like to see. The fact that CHS's Haitian American clients openly discussed their HIV status with other clients and with counselors was considered to be a major milestone.

Cultural competence was key. All CHS staff who were involved in program planning or who had direct contact with clients were sensitive to Haitian culture and values, particularly to the history of the Haitian community with respect to HIV. CHS board and staff members were experienced in the provision of health care services, counseling, case management, as well as research and educational services. They had full understanding of issues related to Haitian beliefs and risk practices impacting HIV transmission. Staff members having direct contact with clients and the public were fluent in both English and Creole.

The Center for Haitian Studies (CHS) is a duly registered 501c3 organization, tax-exempt health and social service organization founded in 1988 for the purpose of serving the disenfranchised populations of Little Haiti/Little River in Miami, Florida.

Tel: +1(305) 757 9555

Fax: +1(305) 756 8023

Center For Haitian Studies
8260 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33138