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"Culture is the heritage of us all. some may be more interested than others in the treasures of the past, but no one can fail to take a pride in his country's participation in the story of mankind, as represented in carvings, sculpture, music, paintings and the other arts. And there is a personal commitment to this, for no man can really say he is alone: we are all joined through our identity, with the cultures which are part of the mainstream of life"
- Simon Kapwepwe, Zambian Independence Freedom Fighter

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill

"Try to be the rainbow in someone else's cloud" - Maya Angelou

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinion drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" - Steve Jobs

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

World AIDS Day

I have never actually ever really observed today.  I know it happens every 1st of December and I have worn ribbons at certain points in my life but I have never participated in any events or really sat down to reflect on why this day has been created.  This year I helped organise events at work and participated and have seen AIDS with clear glasses for the first time, now that I have been most graciously informed that I had rose-coloured ones on before.

I have always been passionate about AIDS and Africa. When I was about 8 years old I was deathly afraid of contracting the disease as it had been drummed into me that AIDS was a death sentence and people who contracted it had somehow done something very wrong and that's why they got it.  The vestiges of that is an acute awareness and vigilance bordering on the psychotic in my personal life because of it.  As I got older and started to understand the social aspects of it the fear that could have led to discrimination thankfully evolved into a fire that burns to be a part of doing something about it.  If I had been a better student I would have fulfilled my childhood dream (this was one of many) of finding the cure.  However this would entail what I consider to be copious amounts of school and a skill that I avoid using at all costs and that is research (I know you may be surprised  by this as my posts tend to have such depth (yes I flatter myself ha ha ha) but this pleasurable and voluntary unlike school and prolonged work related stuff which can be quite painful if you have to do it with no perceivable end) and another called discipline that I have very little of.  So I decided that I would do everything I can to help with the skills I do have.

I happen to be working for an organisation that is at the forefront in trying to reverse the epidemic and this makes me happy.  Blogging about it  helps because it is an issue at the top of Africa's agenda.  Today, at work, I heard from people living withe disease talk about particular experiences in their lives after they had contracted HIV and two things stood out to me:

1. There is no face for HIV/ AIDS.  Yes Africa has the most affected by the disease but it is detrimental to keep showing the face of a disenfranchised African woman or child whenever AIDS is mentioned, and when the media want to switch it up the faces change to gay men, because it allows people who do not identify to think that they are safe or even immune and it stigmatises certain groups no matter how the messages are presented.  On the panel there were women AND men, who were gay AND straight, who came from Africa AND Europe AND Asia AND the USA and were younger AND older.   It can happen to anyone in a manner of ways.  However, because my workmates are not disenfranchised or underprivileged it is clear that their stations in life have enabled them to be able to be empowered by their individual ownership of how they live with HIV and in being able to speak about their experience in a safe place with support and in actively working to help others have the same opportunities to live in good health and which leads me to the second thing...

2. AIDS is a Human Rights issue more than anything right now.  So the second thing I learnt was that people living with HIV are battling daily around the world for the right to be human.  For the right to have children if they choose, to be able to have access to proper medical care, to not be stigmatised, and most importantly to live, and not just in terms of the medical, but to live freely amongst the rest of "us" even though there really should not be such a distinction.

That is why I changed the amashibi (words) above to the Koffi Annan quote from World AIDS Day 2003 because his call to arms is still relevant, and maybe even more so, today:

We must continue to speak up openly about AIDS. No progress will be achieved by being timid, refusing to face unpleasant facts, or prejudging our fellow human beings - still less by stigmatising people living with HIV/AIDS.  Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between "us" and "them.  In the ruthless world of AIDS, there is not us and them.  And in that world, 
silence is death.

The rest of the week I will explore certain issues surrounding AIDS.  Check out the (RED) website to see what people are doing around the world to commemorate the day. The UNAIDS 2010 Global Report happily reports that the number of new cases in Africa is going down and that this phenomenon is most acute in young people although disturbingly it in on the rise with older people.  You can also watch quite powerful and harrowing videos documenting the photo sessions around the world for the Access to Life Exhibition, a collaboration between the Global Fund and Magnum Photos.  I like this exhibition and the videos because it shows the many faces of HIV/ AIDS but at the same time I am always a little wary of documenting people's pain and suffering, I find it a bit intrusive and exploitative.  I don't think I'll ever be able to reconcile this conflict.

I was able to get these beaded AIDS pins  for everyone at work from Wola Nani, a great initiative in South Africa that provides medical, financial, economic and social support to people living with HIV, especially women. I really like programs that empower, that think about the big picture and not just about charity which I feel is usually more about the person giving patting themselves on the back for being so altruistic rather than being about the person in need. Charity is not sustainable but self-sufficiency is.  Going beyond giving a hand-out, an ephemeral happenstance to giving someone knowledge and skills, (as my father always says these are the things that no one can take away from you) is something that can be perpetuated.  You know the whole giving a fish versus taking people fishing to teach them how to catch one themselves thing.

Wola Nani is Xhosa for "we embrace and develop one another". I hope that this AIDS Day you'll think about how to do that in your community with regards to people living with HIV and find ways to incorporate those wise words into all facets of life :)


  1. Thanks for raising awareness about world AIDS day and for all the links, bookmarked a few.

    I attended a speech last week by Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma, where she spoke about her life as an African woman living with HIV. She blew my mind with her speech and was able to really deliver the sentiment of the challenges ahead, the hope also and most importantly the need to change our attitudes about it. If your company was ever looking for public speaker profiles I could not recommend her enough.

  2. Thanks I'll let my boss know :)