Natalie Flath: Physiology/Chemistry major, Global and Urban Ministry minor
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One day last June, it was hot and humid in St. Petersburg, Russia. American Natalie Flath and the HIV-positive Russian orphans in her care craved a swim in the river nearby. All they needed was to wear hats for protection from the sun. Though all but one could find his hat, the orphanage social worker canceled the outing. Frustrated, one of the orphans shouted, “We are not allowed to go outside because we are different! We have a disease and no one wants to see us.”
That heartbreaking declaration drives Flath in her quest to gain practical field experience with HIV and AIDS and to raise awareness about the disease in the land of her Eastern European forebears. According to health professionals, the region has the fastest-growing AIDS epidemic in the world.
At EVA, Flath now spends long days learning Russian, designing projects, writing grants, and spearheading a mentorship project between women who are HIV positive and children who are HIV positive and also have drug-addicted parents. These relationships could potentially spread hope and contribute to breaking the AIDS stigma rampant in Russia. Next year she plans to attend graduate school to study evidence-based intervention against disease.
“My future holds a lifelong commitment to the people of Russia and the fight against AIDS,” says Flath.
Her first trip to St. Petersburg was in 2010 with an SPU SPRINT team that volunteered at an HIV-positive baby orphanage. With a work study program at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, she was placed in an AIDS vaccine development laboratory and eventually hired after she graduated. She also took an active role in the ACT:S club (formerly Acting on AIDS). Says Flath, “My days of campus activism have inspired ideas that contribute to the design of the HIV awareness projects I do now in Russia.”