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‘I love doing what I’m doing, getting the word out to kids about AIDS education’

<i> Times staff writer</i>

Stanley Anthony Saballett is an active 16-year-old junior at Clairemont High School whose great love is basketball. People would never know from talking to him that he moved to San Diego from Brazil last August after his father died of a heart attack in May and his mother died in 1985 from cancer. But his family’s personal tragedy has not stopped him from giving of himself to his community. Since October, Saballett has been an AIDS counselor at OZ, a homelike facility run by the YMCA for runaway teen-agers and teen-agers in crisis with their families. As a peer counselor, he strives first to be their friend and then to teach them how to avoid contracting the deadly disease. He also volunteers with the teen AIDS hot line on the San Diego AIDS Project, and sits on the YMCA’s Board of Directors as a youth representative. He was interviewed by Times staff writer G. Jeanette Avent and photographed by David McNew.

We’re a big family of four brothers and one sister. We grew up in Chicago where my dad was a surgeon.

After my mother died, dad sent my younger brother and sister and myself to live with my mom’s relatives in Brazil.

My two older brothers moved out here to San Diego. After my dad passed away of a heart attack last year, my oldest brother wanted us to come back here so we could be together as a family.

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It’s sometimes hard, but I try to deal with it. I ask my brother’s opinion on things. He’ll always be my brother, but now he’s my guardian too. He has to be my dad.

It’s hard to be a brother and a dad at the same time, so we kind of get mixed up. Being a guardian, he has to be a role model for me now and teach me the right thing from the wrong thing. I appreciate everything he’s doing. He’s been great.

My brother was a counselor and social worker in Chicago. He picked it up from my mom. She was a psychologist.

When he came to San Diego he was very interested in AIDS so he started working for the San Diego AIDS Project. I’ve always had an interest in AIDS because of my brother’s work and also because in Brazil AIDS is really high. I always wanted to know more--what AIDS is about, how do you get it?

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Then there was an opportunity that opened with San Diego Youth and Community Services for young people to be trained as peer educators in AIDS education. We were trained during all-day sessions on Saturdays over a two-month period. I learned a lot about AIDS and how to teach other people about it.

The community service group had a list of places where we could volunteer as peer counselors, and OZ was on the list. I love doing what I’m doing, getting the word out to kids about AIDS education.

The teens at OZ are between 13 and 17. They never really tell me if they’re sexually active, but from what I know, most teens are. They may not talk about it much with adults, but it’s always there.

But it’s not just teens, but everybody needs sex education about AIDS. It’s really important for everyone to know what’s going on--the real facts, and in the case of teens, not knowing wrong things they picked up from the streets.

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It’s important for teens to know if they are going to have sex, they should do it the right way with condoms.

Nowadays they’re really easy to purchase, but sometimes the kids feel embarrassed. If somebody asks why they use a condom they can say it’s none of their business or it’s because they want to practice safe sex and it’s perfectly normal.

I have a mixed group of girls and boys. I talk to them for about an hour. I want to get them to the point where they start asking me questions and it’s not just me talking all the time.

In the beginning when I start talking about sex, they’re embarrassed. But I tell them there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and, after a while, they start opening up. You can see it. They want to know more.

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They usually ask questions about something that someone has told them or something that happened to them that makes them wonder if they have AIDS.

The usual questions include, “I heard you can get AIDS from kissing.” I tell them it’s very unlikely. The only way would be if both people had cuts in their mouths. Then it’s only a 50-50 chance.

I always tell them no question is dumb. They’re all important. Hopefully I’ll always have an answer to their questions. If not, I ask the staff.

Sometimes we get homosexual teens. I deal with them as normal people. That’s the way they want to be, and I can’t change them. Nobody can change them, if they’re happy the way they are. But I don’t make it a point to single out homosexuals. I talk about heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual sex to make sure everybody understands about AIDS.

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I always ask them which group--homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual--is the one increasing with AIDS. They always say homosexual, but it’s the heterosexual group that is increasing.

The homosexual group is starting to deal with AIDS and practices safe sex. Teens still think they’re invincible. Nothing can happen to me, they think. I don’t have to worry about AIDS.

I come in about twice a week. On the weekends I come in and hang out with the kids. I make the kids see I’m here for them, and I’m also a kid. Usually they have chores and cleaning, and I help them with that. After work we sometimes go to the beach or to the movies, or sit around and talk and joke.

It’s more comfortable that way. They know that I’m not here just to preach at them. I’m here as their friend.

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My whole thing in volunteering is the message of safe sex should keep on going beyond the group I teach.

At school all my friends know what I do. If there’s ever a question they always come to me. I don’t just tell people about AIDS at my work here, I take it wherever I go, wherever I can give the message out.


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