World AIDS day to me has always been my friend's birthday. Being asked to reflect on it I realised that I've never really connected with all "x Days" like Teacher's Day, Nurse's Day, Heritage Day. My interest in these "x Days" seems to be solely confined to, is it a public holiday?
I am not implying that the day has no significance, and having been asked to reflect on World AIDS Day I could've researched it to find out more... Instead I decided to write first then research it. I decided to follow this process because I wanted to write a genuine reflection of what it means to me. And as I stated, I have no connection to it.
This is ironic considering that I work for the Centre for the Study of AIDS (CSA). In fact writing this reflection has made it more difficult, for fear of what my bosses will think of me when they read this. I can only hope they somehow appreciate my candour.
I then decided to take the route of reflecting on my work and somehow try to link that to World AIDS Day. When I was thinking about that I realised something I consider amazing. I realised that even though I work in the field of HIV, my work is about people, and how they relate, interact and are affected by society.
I speak for myself when I say HIV isn't a medical issue. Thanks to ARVs that part of the problem has been solved. The greatest impact that HIV has on people is the social implications of being infected and affected by HIV. The reason I love the CSA is because we get to challenge and influence people. The same people who form part of society. By challenging their thinking and thus influencing their behaviours and attitudes we influence society and thus, slowly but surely, mitigate the negative social implications of being infected with or affected by HIV.
The joy of my work is watching people become more understanding and that results in them becoming more accepting and less judgemental. I've witnessed people change from being anti-homosexuality at the beginning of a training session to being accepting of homosexuality, saying things like, "I now understand that their sexuality doesn't change who they are nor is their sexuality all they are." I've witnessed people overcome their fear through knowledge and understanding, saying things like, "I've been avoiding person X since I found out about their status. But now I realise how wrong that was of me. I knew I wouldn't get infected by just being with and interacting with them, but I was still afraid. Maybe I feared judgement by association but now I know better and I will stop discriminating against person X."
World AIDS Day had never meant much to me but now it does. For me it will always remind me of my time at the CSA. The work I did, the people influenced by the work done and, most importantly, World AIDS Day will forever give me hope that society has changed and will continue to change for the better.
Now to go read up on and watch a few YouTube videos about World AIDS Day!