By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton
“I came from Ethiopia. When I lived in Ethiopia, I had an opportunity to do research in high schools that had ‘anti-AIDS’ clubs they called them at that time. This was way back in the early 2000s. Then I got introduced to what it means to be living with HIV and how rampant it was at that time in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. I fell in love with research and applying social justice in this field of HIV where poverty and other social determinants of health sort of have the upper hand in communities. I was very much involved with social justice and human rights issues. So when it was time to apply for grad school, I applied to come to the University of Alberta and I did my masters in HIV education.”
“When we talk about HIV, I think we need to talk about stigma. I think a lot of us in the community do not really know and understand what HIV is about. We may think that it’s just a virus that lives in a person. But with one pill a day, you can live a healthy, amazing, sexually active, productive, fulfilling life, but it’s not like that. HIV is not killing people, it’s stigma that’s killing people. We need to be more aware about HIV and other things that are around HIV. We don’t talk a lot about it in public spheres and we sometimes forget about it, but it’s an issue that is still happening—transmission and infection is still happening, so it’s something to think about. Instead of having stigmatizing or discriminating attitudes, we need to be more supportive of individuals who are living with HIV and also of the research being done around HIV.”
“I’ve worked at HIV Edmonton for eight years. I may be the longest standing staff member for HIV Edmonton. I work as an educator so I do a lot of workshops in the community, especially with professionals and healthcare practitioners and members of the African and black communities in the city. HIV Edmonton has really given me a platform to practice what I love in the broader perspective of social justice but also in the HIV field.”
“Last year I received an award, it’s the RISE Awards, recognizing immigrants’ successes in Edmonton. So I was one of the recipients in community leadership. It was really awesome to be recognized by fellow community members and peers. I was nominated by someone I knew based on the work I’d done that contributed to the immigrant population.”
Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
Ross Armstrong was an activist and he wanted life to be better for those living with HIV. After his diagnosis in 1984, he became a part of HIV Edmonton’s (previously the AIDS Network of Edmonton) team and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.
The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of our agency – the drop-in centre – the Ross Armstrong Centre, which is a safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal.
The Ross Armstrong Centre is a constant reminder that HIV is not always the biggest issue that our clients face. The biggest hurdle for most of our clients is accessing what they need to survive – their basic human needs. Our client programs allow us to support and assist our clients during the most chaotic times in their lives and to alleviate some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis – such as securing the 500 calories that are required to take their HIV medications. In order to continue to support our clients in this way, we rely heavily on the generosity of donors.
All money raised during this campaign will go towards supporting our clients who, in addition to living with HIV, struggle to meet their basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health and social services. It would be amazing if we could reach $5,000 by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating: http://tilt.tc/U2VI