Another awesome week in the #KissHIVGoodbye campaign – the pictures have come in from so many people in our region, elsewhere in Ontario, and even from outside the province! In other news:
We had a booth at Conestoga College yesterday and we were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of the students who wanted to participate in our #KissHIVGoodbye campaign to raise awareness and stimulate conversation. We want to say a sincere and grateful thank-you to all the students who participated, and we want to share the photos with you here, because they’re pretty awesome.
OMG – It is 23 years ago today that I was given the news that would alter my life forever! Diagnosed early in the 90’s I was fortunate when I was steered towards the doors of ACCKWA.
Overwhelmed, embarrassed, and self-conscious of how I might be perceived having contracted a sexually transmitted disease. My apprehension was soon relieved when the support worker who I talked to on the phone agreed to meet me outside of the office environment.
Through the tough years that followed surrounding the loss of my soul mate, ACCKWA staff, volunteers, and other PHA clients gave me extraordinary support, compassion, and friendship. Without it, I know that I would have let my anger and fear fester, and would have isolated myself more. Instead I have worked through my issues with health, grief, stigma, and loneliness to become a confident HIV-positive speaker, blogger, and ACCKWA volunteer.
Thank you to everyone at ACCKWA.
– Church Mouse
ACCKWA is like my own personal “Cheers” (TV show). It’s where I go to meet up with friends and make new ones. Where there is laughter, tears and drama. It is sometimes my second home, and sometimes the last place I want to be. Here, the staff all know me and are always happy to see me. I can always rely on ACCKWA, if for nothing else than just to be heard. It is a place of teaching, growth, and acceptance. It is my community centre.
Sanguen Health Centre has been active in Waterloo Region since 2007, providing testing and treatment to individuals who have, or who are at risk of, Hepatitis C. In 2011, Sanguen’s outreach team launched with the goal of providing outreach, education, and prevention services to people in the community who were at-risk for Hepatitis C, with a focus on people who were using drugs.
ACCKWA was already well-known in the substance use community – the Safepoint Needle Exchange had been up and running for many years. Sanguen had a team of peer outreach workers ready to leap into action. It was decided that the outreach teams from both agencies would work together to reach as many at-risk people as possible.
Since 2011, the joint outreach team has met with hundreds of people – on the streets, in agencies around the Region, in schools, and in health care settings. We’ve shared important information about Hepatitis C and HIV, and have encouraged people to recognize their risks, get tested, and to seek treatment. Individually, both agencies do amazing work, but together we’re even better!
ACCKWA continues to serve as a prime example of the success that can be achieved through dedicated and intentional commitment to community partnerships.
Through my work as facilitator of the Wednesday Night Discussion Group and Chair of the Waterloo Region Rainbow Coalition, I have had the opportunity to work closely with ACCKWA’s Gay Men’s Sexual Health Team. I have been extremely impressed not only by the knowledge and services they provide, but also their willingness to apply their skills and resources to mutually benefit community collaborations.
ACCKWA staff routinely participate in the Wednesday Night Discussion Groups and answer questions related to sexual health, advertise local health and wellness services, and provide condoms and informational literature/pamphlets to group participants. When the group began its renewal processes this Fall, ACCKWA stepped up to host discussions one week a month and help jointly advertise the group to their clients. ACCKWA staff have not engaged with the group participants as an “external” party separate from the group, but rather as fellow participants who value the group and are committed to its success.
ACCKWA staff have also been actively involved as members of the board of the Waterloo Region Rainbow Coalition (WRRC) and collaborators on a number of initiatives, including the “Queer Night Out” community dances. In these roles, ACCKWA staff apply their extensive community network to greatly aid in organizing and advertising the events, which they in turn benefit from, through more extensive community connections to better facilitate their outreach efforts.
ACCKWA has proved its willingness to meet its mandate, not through competition, independent activities, or duplication of services, but rather, through collaborating with existing organizations and services who serve clients that ACCKWA also has an interest in supporting. This is a win-win situation for both the organizations, and their clients.
ACCKWA is not just a valuable community service, but a vital community partner.
– Jeremy Steffler
At ACCKWA, we’re all about meeting people where they’re at. One of the ways we make our outreach and risk reduction counselling more accessible is using apps and websites. This allows people to chat with us for any questions or concerns, and provide a source of reliable, accurate, and sex-positive information. Here is some of the recent feedback from the GMSH online outreach:
“I appreciate you volunteering, it means so much to the community, that is awesome” –42 year old, Grindr
“I appreciate you being on here. Lord knows we need people who are good on here.” –21 year old, Grindr
“Thank you for your information buddy!!” -33 year old, Grindr
“Thanks, truly was helpful” – Grindr
“Take care and thanks again! You’re a great help. Will probably ask again at some point/stop by too. Ciao for now!” -20 year old, Grindr
“It’s good you guys are reaching out and making people aware.” –Grindr
“Keep doing your job, you’re doing great! ;)” –Grindr
I am a practicum placement student from the Honours SMF (Sexuality, Marriages, and Families) program at St. Jerome’s University, which is a part of the University of Waterloo. I have been with ACCKWA for about two months, and I primarily work under the Coordinator of Volunteers to help increase awareness for HIV and promote the programs, services, and events, as well as harm-reduction strategies, that ACCKWA offers the community. My job is to do so in a modern, interactive way using technology – that is, using social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook! (Because, yes, we are that cool.)
I am very excited to be a part of the team here at ACCKWA. Before my placement, I had had little exposure to the experiences of people living with and affected by HIV, and I feel enlightened and humbled at the opportunity to work along side such dedicated, warm-hearted individuals who have. Knowing what I know now about stigmatization and discrimination around HIV, even in the two months that I have been at ACCKWA, I feel that it is very important to make the public aware that HIV still exists… and that there are some very unfair stereotypes attached to this illness. The stereotypes and myths need to stop.
My hope is that by increasing awareness via social media, we will reach a broad(er) demographic of individuals who may not have otherwise known about HIV, HIV stigma, or ACCKWA and what we provide. The internet is a resource used by many in this day and age, and accessible with a variety of mediums – as I’m sure you are aware! So let’s get the word out there, to any and all who might be listening.
Thank you to everyone who participated this week. The submissions were really awesome and creative, and will help inspire conversations around HIV.
The more we normalize talking about HIV, the more we can share information and interrupt the cycle of ignorance, fear, and stigma that leads to new transmissions. You’re all amazing, and we can’t wait to see what you share with us next week!
In 1983 I attended the funeral of a childhood friend of mine who I had lost touch with when we went our separate ways after both rejecting the church we grew up in. He moved to Montreal and contracted what was, in Canada, a relatively unknown disease, called AIDS. I had read about this virus in magazines, but at that point the news reports were coming out of Africa and San Francisco—not Canada. It seemed far away, but that funeral showed me that it wasn’t. Now, decades later, there are very few of us whose lives haven’t been touched in some way by it.
Many religious communities point to compassion as an important pillar of their beliefs. In many of their traditions, it often finds its expression in the collection and distribution of food or clothing and other basic needs, for those who most need it. That is necessary because our government agencies either can’t meet the growing need or can’t do so with the care and personal attention that, for example, a spiritual organization can express. Having said that, there are areas of compassion where the faith communities can do better. One of those areas is in the reaching out to, and caring for those among us who are infected with HIV/AIDS. As this disease continues to impact in the lives of many, it also provides an important opportunity to the faith community to respond and do what we claim to do best: care for the needs of those among us who struggle with life’s harsh realities. Jesus used that phrase, “the least of these” to describe them (Matthew 25:40) but he wasn’t talking about a person’s intrinsic worth. What he did mean is that there are people in our communities, both local and international, who are is a position of vulnerability and require a loving response from those who are able to reach out to them, without judgment, without an agenda.
For those of you who, like me, come from a Christian perspective, I would like to look at ways we can do a better job of following the example of the one we claim to follow, Jesus Christ. I am sure that others, from other faith groups, will be able to see parallels in their own communities.
As caring and compassionate people we must see past the disease to the person infected and, like our Master, love. Many who live with HIV/AIDS also live with the stigma of their illness, one that isolates them from others and causes loneliness. Followers of Jesus are called to love. I recognize that there are barriers to loving practically. The biggest one is fear. We are afraid of what we don’t understand. We are fearful because we have false information that leads to the growth of stigma, and stigma builds walls, not bridges. We are apprehensive and reluctant when we don’t know anyone who is living with HIV/AIDS and don’t feel empathy because of that distance. These three barriers to loving can be overcome, but it will take intentionality. Faith communities can start becoming more effective in loving people with HIV/AIDS by reaching out to a local agency that supports individuals with HIV/AIDS and joining support groups, going to educational forums and presentations and volunteering. The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, & Area (ACCKWA) is one such place where you can open your mind and heart to those who live with this disease. Another idea is to invite representatives from that agency into their community with no strings attached, for the purpose of sharing stories, learning about how the disease affects those infected, and how its physical toll is magnified by the emotional consequences of the alienation it often brings.
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, [or HIV/AIDS, I could add] but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody.” Loneliness is the most debilitating of diseases and no doctor can cure it- but we can, as we reach out in Jesus’ love to those living with HIV/AIDS.
– Timothy Horne