ManCheck Workcamp in Berlin from July 28th to August 11th 2013

Verfasst von Martin Lacroix

The Idea

The SCI workcamp in cooperation with ManCheck Berlin is a workcamp on the topic of HIV-prevention and also prevention of other STI´s (sexually transmittable infections). A group of 10 including the 2 workcamp coordinators gathered in Berlin for 2 weeks, during the study parts of the programme learned about the work in the field of prevention, mainly focused on the groups that have a higher risk of an HIV-infection, respectively infection with another STI: MSM (men having sex with men), but also sex workers and drug users. What we had learned within these study parts was directly put into practice, when supporting the professional team of prevention workers of MenCheck in their outreach actions which took place in the gay scene of Berlin, distributing condoms, reminding people of the importance of safer sex (and as well safer use of drugs) and to inform about possible health risks. For the last evening of the camp the participants of the camp had to design their own outreach action which worked out as a great success for us.

Alika from Ukraine: In this camp I was in a completely different world.

berlin4About what we learned (study parts)

The program of the 2 weeks was quite intense: At daytime we got a lot of theoretical and practical input by the team of ManCheck, but also had to do our own research, mainly in group work, of which the results we presented to the rest of the group then. We did excursions to different institutions in Berlin working with our target groups and in the field of HIV as well, as for example the Berlin Schwulenberatung, the biggest counselling institution in Berlin for gays, the Berliner Aids Hilfe (Berlin Aids Help), Fixpunkt, an institution working with drug users with the aim of harm reduction for their clients and also Subway, an institution with a drop-in-space for young male sex workers. What we saw and learned there, especially when it was about the situation of sex workers or drug users, could be quite hard and depressing.

Berta from Barcelona: In this camp I have learned to appreciate more the things around me and to distinguish the big problems from the little ones. It has been a lesson for my whole life.

Each country prepared its own country presentation on the situation in the home countries of the participants: Austria, Catalunia/Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, covering the topics of general economic and social situation, the situation of homosexuals, and of HIV: infection rate, prevention work that is done, affected groups in these countries and more. We had a lot of discussions and learned a lot, sometimes it felt rather like a training camp than like a workcamp, those who had been to other workcamps agreed that this workcamp was quite different from what camps usually look like.

Luca from Italy: I liked that you could see a lot of points of view, I reflected a lot, I grew personally and I improved.

berlin3Of course when talking about sexuality, different sexual practices and also personal experiences within 2 intense weeks you also get personally involved, especially when it is with a group that could work together very well. When working on the field of prevention of HIV and STI you have to be ready to talk about sexuality openly – which we ended up doing not only during our working sessions, but in our free time as well. Some learned about sexual practices they had never heard of before – the most popular one in our group was fisting, but there were others like rimming or Bukkake as well. Some found themselves talking about sex in a way they probably usually wouldn´t have. In the end we agreed that it was a good and important experience for us.

Oriol from Barcelona: “It was a very good experience that made me feel more open-minded than before and I was in a group that made me feel so comfortable which helped to share a lot of things with trust and sincerity.

Outreach actions

Each participant of the camp took part in at least 2 outreach actions in the gay scene of Berlin. We visited different kinds of clubs and bars and went to the most popular gay cruising area of Berlin in the public park “Tiergarten” as well. Depending on the place we made quite different experiences how the people would react to our work: some were very grateful and interested, others seemed not really to care about the topic safer sex or even said that they would not practice it. Quite often the contact with the members of the target groups were quite short, especially when it was on a barhopping tour, where we did not have a stand: handing out a condom and just wishing the person a nice evening was how the average contact in this setting looked like, but still we felt that also for those – and maybe even for those who would not take the offered condom – it could be an important reminder. When we had a stand, like we did in the cruising area or in some of the clubs, this gave us a better chance to talk with people, give them more information and get them more involved. The work on the outreach actions was also very much about how to present the information we wanted to share in a way that would attract people and make them get involved, putting our information in a game like a quiz or another fun activity – which worked out well. Our group liked the work we had to do, as it was at the same time important information we were passing on and as it could be fun at the same time as well.

Francesc from Barcelona: I am now a more open-minded person than before and I would like to continue working with the topic when I go home.

Our own outreach actions

For the last evening we had to design our own outreach actions, which we did in 2 groups, as the 10 of us were too many to be put on one stand only. One group of 5 participants prepared an action for a bad taste party, they dressed up as a doctor, 2 sexy male nurses and 2 condoms (!!) and prepared some informative quiz games for the visitors of the club. They also – using photoshop – prepared some posters of celebrities or pop stars, changing the lines of well-known song titles, so the songs would then be about safer sex. (E.g. Britney Spears: “Oops, I did it again, I´ll have to get tested again!”, or Whitney Houston: “ I will always love you safe.”). They managed perfectly well to get the people interested in what they were presenting and got loads of positive reactions.

Valerie from Austria, talking about the workcamp: Gimme gimme gimme a man with a condom! I loved the group, I loved the work, thanks to everyone!

berlin1The second group was successful as well, performing their “Magic Condom Show” in one of Berlin´s most famous gay clubs, the SchwuZ. Dressed up as a magician, 2 white rabbits and 2 assistants to the magician they presented more or less “magic” tricks with condoms and a card game, and also got people involved in a quiz game. A cheerleading rabbit would invite people to take a closer look at the stand, to those who were not really interested in participating in the activities a white rabbit would just offer a condom – and the people loved our show!

Freetime acitivites

Even if there was not really that much free time, we managed well to get around Berlin and get to know some nice places as well. We went swimming to a lake that was close to the place where we lived, we visited different parks and did some sightseeing for example at the Bundestag or the famous Holocaust memorial and visited some of the famous sites like the Brandenburger Tor. In the evenings we went out to bars and clubs, often joining the other members of the group who were doing an outreach action visiting the same club to have a drink together after they would be done with their work. On one evening we participated at a common barbecue of 5 SCI workcamps that were taking place in Berlin or at least close to Berlin at that time, where we would also present our workcamp to the other camps. Playing games was one of our favourite things to do, when being out in a park or staying at home in our garden: among many others we played contact, Mafia, table tennis and of course secret friend, a game in which everybody get small presents from another member of the group and could try to find out who was his or her secret friend. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed our time together.

Jenny from Germany: I love the group and I love the time we spent together.

About the people

Even if we agreed that we were a quite heterogenous group with people with very different characters, right from the beginning we managed to work together very well. As everybody was open to the group, dedicated to the topic and giving his best for the team, we could spend a good time together, even being different characters, having different sexual orientations, different ages and quite different backgrounds. The conflicts that of course occasionally occurred we managed to handle well.

Katie from Russia: I never thought that it was possible to come together with so many amazing people in one place at the same time!

The cooperation with the team of ManCheck worked out very good as well, Pablo, Robert and Thomas, who were the ones working with us most of the time, would present us their work and the information they had prepared for us in a way that made it easy for us to get interested, and of course it is more fun working with people who are as dedicated to what they are doing as the team of ManCheck is – we were very grateful for that!

Now that I am writing this, just recently arrived back home in Vienna, I can say that I am missing each and every member of our group, and I think that many of us feel the same. The camp was a great experience that I would not like to miss.

Luka from Belgrade: Now that the workcamp is finishing, I am realizing how amazing it was.