Team Detroit; World AIDS Day at Spirit of Hope

By Kamran Salari on December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

World AIDS Day is observed annually on December 1st with the goal of raising global awareness of HIV and the AIDS pandemic. In 2013, the World AIDS Day theme was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation”, highlighting the fact that an AIDS-free generation requires cooperation both within and between communities. Keeping this theme in mind, the Detroit AIDS United team partnered with Spirit of Hope Church for its commemoration service on December 1.
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The commemoration service gave attendees a chance to honor loved ones by writing their names on red pieces of cloth and included several speakers who shared their experiences with HIV. One man spoke about the cultural shift that he observed away from the carefree, sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s as the HIV pandemic grew. As he saw his otherwise healthy friends and family fall victim to HIV, he realized that he had to both take responsibility for his own health as well as accept those around him who were affected by the virus. Acceptance, rather than toleration, is the key to eliminating AIDS as it lessens the negative stigma surrounding the virus. By lessening the fear around the virus, more people feel encouraged to get tested, and people living with HIV build the confidence that they need to fight the virus. This confidence manifests itself by helping people stick to treatment plans and practice less risky behaviors more consistently. Acceptance is a way of taking responsibility for eliminating AIDS, which is shared by everyone.

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Another woman spoke about her struggles with receiving acceptance and support after her initial diagnosis with HIV. She was four-months pregnant when she was tested positive for HIV by her doctor. She was neither informed of her options nor given any pre or post test counseling. She was essentially given her diagnosis and left to fend for herself. From there, she had problems receiving acceptance from her family members. Her story left a particularly powerful impact on me, as an HIV counselor. It reminded me that my work does hold meaning and can have strong effects on how my clients act after being tested. Despite the fact that some clients seem unresponsive to risk reduction strategies, just being a listening ear for someone to talk to about their concerns can give them a sense of comfort and empower them to make more informed decisions in the future.

The Detroit AIDS United team participated at the commemoration by helping with set up and directing/welcoming attendees to Spirit of Hope. We also partnered with Affirmations as part of the Facing AIDS campaign. Facing AIDS is a website that posts pictures of people with signs explaining why they are facing AIDS. The goal of the campaign is to put faces to the virus, eliminate the negative stigma around HIV, and explain why people take action in the fight against HIV. At the commemoration service, our team encouraged attendees to make their own signs stating their reasons for fighting AIDS and hung them up in the church. We also took pictures of participants with their signs if they agreed to do so. Hanging these signs up helped bring the commemoration attendees together by participating in a common activity. People also noticed common themes in their reasons for facing AIDS, such as love for their communities and desire to reduce stigmatization.

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Overall, World AIDS Day impacted the Detroit Americorps team as much as we impacted the people at the commemoration service. We heard fresh perspectives on the importance of sharing responsibility for HIV and are excited to use these new ideas in our work at our agencies as the year progresses.

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