By Mary Lou Harrison
On April 15, the Social Justice Team at St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, hosted a discussion evening at which six “table speakers” shared their lived experiences of HIV and AIDS with an inquisitive audience.
The format for the evening was based on the “Slice of Life” event held by the Rotary Club of Whitby and promoted by RADAR (Rotary Action for the Development of AIDS Responses) as a template for groups interested in learning about HIV and AIDS.
After brief introductory remarks, representatives of Latinos Positivos, the Ontario AIDS Network, Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), and the HIV & AIDS Network of the Diocese of Toronto were seated at banquet tables, where they were joined by up to six guests each. Each table speaker had 10 minutes to share his or her personal journey as a person living with HIV-AIDS and answer questions. At the end of 10 minutes, a bell was rung and there was a short refreshment break before participants moved on to another speaker.
“It was eye-opening to meet people from different countries and cultures and hear their stories of dealing with AIDS,” said one St. Mary Magdalene parishioner. “I was saddened to hear about the lack of medical and social support for AIDS patients in Latin America. Even in Canada, we have a long way to go. I learned about grassroots organizations here in Toronto that support people of Latin American descent and people of Asian descent. These social support organizations are a powerful movement for caring and inclusion. The people I met were determined, hopeful, and resourceful, and the evening left me feeling totally inspired.”
This sentiment was echoed by the members of the Rotary Club of Toronto Twilight who participated enthusiastically in the discussion and were grateful for the opportunity to gain “a deeper understanding of the realities of living with this disease.”
One of these realities is how federal cuts to refugee healthcare have meant that some HIV-positive people are unable to afford the medication they need to stay healthy. The situation is so dire that Latinos Positivos is looking to establish an emergency pharmacy so people will not have to stop their treatment regimens.
Another common theme was the vital importance of a caring and accepting community, especially when family and other traditional supports are no longer available because of the stigma often associated with an HIV-positive diagnosis.