Faces of HIV – Twenty One

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I came to HIV Edmonton for the first time when I found out I had HIV. It was in 2010. I came here and everything started from there. You know, I got my doctors, all the health team helped, and housing later on and all the programs—so you stay involved so you’re not out there doing bad things too much. They’re doing lots of things to help. From the start, I was involved with the cooking class program here. We’ve got that twice a month and it helps a lot. It’s mostly the same people, but we get new ones in too. We also do visiting stuff and talks.”

“For sure the biggest challenge is the stigma. It gets easier for yourself everyday but with other people, it sometimes feels that you never get ahead. When you first get diagnosed, you feel really weird and bad. You feel different and alone. But then eventually it gets better, after three or five years, and you don’t feel that as much anymore. But in the community, you know, we don’t talk too loud about it. Even though we move ahead, the community doesn’t. But that’s life, right?”

“The best part is the education about it. The more people know about HIV and AIDS, the easier it will get. I do talks to youth in trouble and to Grant McEwan health people. It helps for them to understand more and they are the future so that’s positive.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith

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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.

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