February 29, 2008

Hard Times Led Director of Tijuana AIDS Hospice to His Life’s Work

Stories Against the Silence: HIV/AIDS in the Latino Community

By Ana Cubías
New America Media

In an empty lot – surrounded by rats, dust, and covered with newspaper sheets – José Antonio Granillo hit rock bottom with his drug and alcohol addiction.

Fortunately in 1997, Granillo found a solution to his problems when he decided to enter a rehabilitation center in Tijuana called Centro de Integración y Recuperación para Enfermos de Alcoholismo y Drogadicción (CIRAD)/ Center for Integration and Convalescence for those Ailing from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, a nonprofit organization with several centers in Baja California, Mexico.

Since that year, his life has changed.

“I spent 24 years doing drugs,” Granillo, 49, said. “Thanks to CIRAD, I already have 10 years clean of drugs.”

CIRAD not only gave him the opportunity to get out of his addiction to heroin and alcohol, but it also gave him the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in the hospice Casa Hogar Las Memorias, a hospice that helps patients with HIV/AIDS.

Granillo, now the director of Las Memorias, said the hospice has been operating for over eight years. The hospice started with eight volunteers from CIRAD, with the purpose of aiding low-income patients who have HIV/AIDS.

Since then, the hospice has turned to be Granillo’s life. Besides having to take care of patients, he also has had to take care of himself.

Granillo started using drugs since he was 13 years old. Now, after obtaining professional help, he has discovered that these addictions began due to the lack of attention from his parents.

“My father never told me: ‘Son I love you a lot, you are very important to me,’” Granillo said.

Granillo said that thanks to CIRAD and some workshops he has done there around his addiction, he has been able to deal with his traumas and he can now help the patients at Las Memorias. The hospice has workshops that help the patients to be conscious of their addictions to drugs and alcohol.

“A lot of people think that alcohol it’s not a drug,” Granillo said. “Alcohol disintegrates families, you can die from it. It lowers your self-esteem and you can end up alone in the streets.”

Las Memorias is the only place in Baja California that helps poor people with HIV/AIDS. And the work of Granillo and others has transformed a hospice into something different.

“This house was created for people who were in the terminal phase of the illness and people used to think that Las Memorias was the place to come to die,” Granillo said. “But when we started to receive medicines, and we secured a steady supply, the mortality rate decreased and the quality of life increased.”

About 2,000 people have lived in Las Memorias since it was open. Some 600 have died and 1,400 have been released due to improvements in their health, and those patients have been able to reintegrate themselves to society, said Granillo.

Even though Granillo was addicted to drugs, he never got HIV, but he said that even people who live apparently normal lives are at a great risk to become HIV infected.

“I know women who are not promiscuous and who had never used drugs, but who have the virus,” Granillo said. “Some people think they never were going to get AIDS, but all of us are at risk.”

Granillo’s work in the hospice is important because CIRAD only covers 70 percent of the expenses and the other 30 percent comes from charity. One of the biggest dreams of Granillo is that the land the hospice is located on will belong to Las Memorias one day.

“I always try to keep my feet on the ground, but I always look for improvements for this house,” Granillo said. “We didn’t have water or electricity before, but now we have both.”

Granillo hopes that one day the government will give support to Las Memorias.

“I think that [the government] should get more involve and they should value our work,” Granillo said. “They should realize that we are doing what they have to be doing, because as of today, they have not opened a hospice.”

Despite the fact that Granillo has to fundraise to run and take care of Las Memorias, his commitment with the patients, the community, God, and himself is bigger than his struggle.

“I love my job. This is my life and I think I will be here until I die,” he said.

Return to the Frontpage