In 2016 I attended my first Scotiabank AIDS Walk, Winnipeg. Given my background in HIV treatment, prevention and research I was so excited to be in attendance. This year, I attended the walk in a different capacity. Last year I was merely a spectator, this year I was a volunteer.
So, on a rainy, dismal-looking Sunday morning I made my way to Central Park for the annual walk. This year’s theme “tied together” was enough motivation to get me out of bed in the rain. The theme spoke to the fact that unity is perhaps the most important element in fighting HIV (and it’s related social issues, including stigma). However, it also speaks to the fact that HIV ties us all together – a few years ago a colleague of mine stated “we may not all be infected, but we are all affected”.
In my few years working for an HIV-focused human rights organisation in Jamaica, it became apparent to me that the more we discuss issues around HIV and break down stigma we will realise that people close to us are living with the virus and are also living with the pain of not being able to speak to you about it.
Treatment for any life-long infection can be hard. Imagine how much harder it is for someone living with HIV, when it is coupled with the pressure of not being able to speak about those struggles with family members or friends because of the stigma (whether real or perceived) that surrounds HIV infection.
The only way we can see an AIDS-free generation is if we are all working to understand HIV and support those living with it (and their families).
For this reason, among others, I stood with several volunteers and quite a few attendees who came out in the rain to at least be in the park with the Nine Circles Community Health Centre team. While, for some people this is about showing your face and supporting a cause because you feel like it’s the right thing to do… for others, this is about fighting for a community.
In 2017 one may think it’s unnecessary to discuss or bring awareness to issues around HIV infection – after-all people are living longer; however people are still getting infected and people are still unaware of their status. In no way can we call this a success, and therefore we cannot stop speaking about it… even in the rain.
So in the rain we celebrated. Celebrated the work Nine Circles is doing and how donor funding and volunteers help them to continue working to give people infected and affected by HIV the best care and support possible.
The 2017 Scotiabank AIDS Walk was a mere shell of 2016’s staging – there were less people and less activities, even less excitement perhaps…but there was community. A community of people who proved that in even the worst circumstances they would show up.
Commitment to the cause tied us together.