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
- 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
- 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
- Working together with
national and international groups and organizations capable of supporting
and further expanding the association’s interests.
Cooperation with Schorer Nederland Foundation
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
- Health messages through
the media and internet
- Support groups
- Theme events
- Information and
communication materials specifically designed for MSM.
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
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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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