Advocacy: a big word with a simple meaning.
If you believe strongly in someone or something, and feel the world at large pays too little attention, it may be up to you to change the equation.
“When you think of human trafficking, extreme poverty, disease, lack of basic freedoms – how can everyone be too busy?” – Ed Tessaro
Advocacy to me means supporting a project or cause that is important to you. Support can be volunteering your time, working on policy to make changes at the congressional level, and/or fundraising to fund a project, cure, or mission.
You can work full-time or part-time, volunteer, donate, and write letters to important people in the field to gain additional support and networking.
Advocacy also doesn’t always mean trying to change the regulations and laws, but working towards a solution for a need.
To me, being an advocate means, first and foremost, knowing who you are as a person and what things in life are important to you (including your needs on a daily basis).
Only then can you truly be an advocate — someone who can effectively communicate to others who you are, what you need, and how you want or prefer to have those needs met.
What is an advocate? By definition, an advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. For example, if the thought of being an HIV advocate in public makes you nervous, there are other types of advocacy that might be the first step. You may know that you want to do something, but you may not know what to do or where to start. This is why learning more about different forms of advocacy can help you realize that you are already an advocate almost every day. Source
You might not think of yourself as an advocate, but in many ways you already are.
Every time you speak up for yourself or others, you are an advocate. It may be as simple as letting the cashier at the grocery store know she overcharged you for an item or telling your children not to speak to you disrespectfully. It can also be more difficult, like fighting for disability status or filing a complaint with human resources for discrimination or harassment at your job.
You are likely an advocate for yourself or someone else every day in one way or another.
Individual advocacy for others and peer advocacy
Individual advocacy refers to supporting someone when they need help or trying to find a solution when someone has a problem. You likely advocate for other people often in your daily life, yet you may not think of it as advocacy.
Examples of being an individual advocate for others:
- Helping an elderly neighbor figure out local shuttle and bus schedules so she or he can continue to live independently without driving.
- Contacting school officials after learning a child was bullied at school.
- Practicing or role-playing a difficult conversation that a friend expects to have with her boss.
- Writing or calling city officials to improve or address an issue in your community.
Examples of being an HIV peer advocate:
- Helping someone in your support group who is having trouble understanding HIV treatment materials.
- Linking a friend to a better health care provider after hearing she was not getting her questions answered or did not get the care she needed.
- Volunteering at an AIDS Service Organization (ASO) to be a resource/peer advocate for people who are newly diagnosed.
It can be a wonderful thing to advocate on your own or someone else’s behalf. It can also be very empowering to work together with a group of people; when more than one person speaks up about an issue, the message can be even stronger. Community advocacy is a larger version of the individual advocacy that you may already practice in your daily life. The difference is, community advocacy involves groups of people acting to affect positive change.
Before getting involved, decide how comfortable you are about disclosing personal information. This is an individual decision that requires careful thought and discussion with people close to you. Whether you decide to go public with your issue or keep it private, you can still be a community advocate.
There are many things you can do. For example, you can speak at a house of worship or other organization about the needs of people like you. You can get involved with local awareness and fundraising events by participating in special events. You can join an advisory group, a service organization, or a planning council.
You can also advocate on behalf of your community through the media, including social media.
If you are interested in politics and policy, you may want to help make a difference on a national or international level. In that type of advocacy role, you would focus on policies that impact HIV treatment, funding, gender equality, women-centered health care, criminalization, or other issues. You might be asked to call, visit, or write letters to government officials. If this is of interest to you, most groups will provide some form of training to help people learn how to become public or political advocates.
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