Facing AIDS on World AIDS Day

Facing AIDS

I'm facing AIDS by studying Public Health!

Dr. Winnie Siu writes…I am marking World AIDS Day in London, UK this year where I’m undertaking a master’s program at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

An American classmate took this picture of me yesterday. Inspired by a campaign in the U.S., she encouraged me to complete the phrase “Facing AIDS” by turning it into a personalized sentence. The idea was to post the picture in a social media forum in order to reduce stigma against HIV. I don’t have Facebook or Twitter, so I’m posting it here.

I spent this past May working as a family medicine resident physician on the paediatrics ward of a hospital in rural Malawi. It was my first time returning to sub-Saharan Africa since a deeply moving journey to Zambia in 2008. And though I was not specifically working in the area of HIV, it still permeated everything I did and thought about; it was the explicit and implicit cause and result of so many other medical, social, political, structural, economic, ethical and equity issues.

One of the biggest reasons why, after completing my residency in family medicine, I am back in school this year studying public health is because I realized that I am woefully unequipped to disentangle these complexities. Therefore, I am facing AIDS in a classroom this year, through textbooks and lectures and impassioned discussions with my diverse classmates, some of whom come from areas where they face the reality of AIDS every day.

At times the classroom learning seems so distant and too theoretical, and I itch to get back on the field. I long to face AIDS by working and being face-to-face with those affected by AIDS. But, dreams take work and patience too. So, I read and listen, question and analyze, debate and learn. And I do this hoping that I can one day face AIDS equipped with the knowledge and skills to offer practical, positive change.

This guest post is contributed by Dr. Winnie Siu.  She is a Canadian physician currently working on a Masters program at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

GLINT- Learning About HIV on World AIDS Day

On World AIDS Day, Give a Day held the first ever GLINT Challenge.  The Give a Day Live Not-so-Trivial Challenge was a marathon for the mind – a one-hour online twitter-based contest organized by Give a Day volunteers on the topic of HIV and the people and places most affected.  Over the course of one hour, 200 questions were tweeted from GLINT headquarters, recognizing that 200 people in the world die each hour because of HIV.  Aside from gaining a lot of knowledge, and bragging rights, the winning team would be able to direct $1000 in prize money to an organization that will use the money well in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

At noon on December 1, the volunteers at GLINT headquarters were ready with 200 questions and worked as a team to systematically tweet them out.  Twelve different twitter handles were registered in the challenge, and while individuals from Canada, the U.S. and South Africa played along, the most intense competition was between the multi-person teams which ranged from high school students, to a group of seniors from Toronto.  During the hour of GLINT, 1029 tweets were exchanged, causing some accounts to go temporarily over their daily capacity!  Teams quickly switched over to alternate accounts and kept playing.

Anne Greenwood, a GLINT participant commented, “GLINT was a great event! It was a great way to get together with people on World AIDS Day.  And the questions really got the conversation started. After we finished answering the questions, we sat around for over an hour discussing HIV/AIDS here in Canada and around the world.”

After all the tweeting was complete, the answers were tallied and the winner was @StratfordNWSS, the team from Stratford Northwestern Secondary School in Stratford, Ontario.  Runners-up were @BulldogAttack, @anne_greenwood and @bethanyphilpott.  The students at Northwestern met to discuss different organizations and have decided to direct their prize to the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

The GLINT Challenge winners- Stratford Northwestern Secondary School!

Volunteers who organized this challenge report that it was an exhilarating experience. We often say that Give a Day donors are very unique. They have the ability to connect at a distance with people they will never know, and to see common ground and shared similarities.  Twitter has now given us a new way to connect with others who are concerned about HIV in the world and to work together to get people talking about HIV and how we can learn and respond. While we might not ever meet personally with those who participated in GLINT, it was remarkable to spend an hour together on World AIDS Day, and to know that so many others were using their time and energy to work towards a world without AIDS.



If you had a thousand dollars…

Recently a kind relative gave $1000 to each of our kids (aged 21, 19, 16 and 10) with the directions that it was to be donated to a cause of their choice.

This started a long and interesting discussion about what cause each would like to support.  Some of the options they considered were the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Rett Syndrome Association, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, or the Mennonite Central Committee work to provide food aid for Somalia.

The Globe and Mail has a fantastic special feature this week with some excellent articles about how philanthropy can be both smart and good.

It’s a big deal to donate $1000.  You need to know it will be well spent.  Around December 1 (World AIDS Day) lots of Canadians make donations of one day’s pay.  For some, the amount turns out to be $80 or $100.  For some it is $1000 or more! How do these people know their donation will be well used?

Give a Day (GAD) recommends 2 great recipients and I personally give to them for a variety of reasons.

I believe my money will be well used by Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitas International because:

  1. I know and trust their leaders.
  2. I’ve watched them grow from small Canadian organizations responding to HIV.  They have held true to their original purpose, values and approach.
  3. I know the money gets to the people who need it.  I’ve visited some of the projects supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation and talked to the women and families who are recipients of support.
  4. I know how much they need my support to fulfil their mandate. For all our hard work, it is still a struggle to raise money for the cause of HIV.  We cannot lessen our advocacy for this cause.

I’m delighted that my children can make a contribution this year to a cause of their choice.

Around December 1, I hope many will give generously in recognition of World AIDS Day.

How about you? How can you help now?

  1. Share this. Tweet this.
  2. Follow us on Twitter.
  3. Like us on Facebook.
  4. Join our mailing list.
  5. Engage your community or workplace in a GAD campaign.
  6. Plan a harambee.
  7. Leave us a comment, a question or a note of encouragement.

Surprising lessons from the unplanned conception of Give a Day

It wasn’t meant to happen. 

When the idea of Give a Day (GAD) was conceived in 2004, it was never meant to grow into a powerful movement raising half a million dollars a year to support people affected by HIV.  But GAD was born – with a beating heart, a compassionate soul and legs to make it move. 
And so GAD has grown and in its short life has raised $3 million in donations to great organizations like the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitas International.

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

1.       Canadians (and presumably others) really want to act out their concern about HIV

GAD appeals to a sense of empathy that is in us all.  The story of AIDS is not a single story but collectively it is a human story.  Few of us could be unmoved by the thought of 14 million orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS.  Lack of compassion is not the problem. But knowing how to respond can be difficult. GAD has been an objective advisor for donors.  GAD organizers don’t work for any of the recommended recipient organizations.  But we’ve looked around enough to know where donor dollars will be well spent.

2.       Simple is beautiful

Not everyone has the time or resources to raise money by running a marathon or climbing a mountain. But lots of us would give up one day or our time on behalf of people affected by HIV.  That’s the simple question behind GAD:  Would you give up one day if you knew it could make a difference?  Sure you would. That’s the GAD plan.  Around December 1, World AIDS Day, I give the equivalent of the money I would make in one day and I give it to an organization I trust to benefit people affected by HIV.

3.       Lawyers (and other Canadians) are generous and compassionate!

Does everyone know that lawyers are such a generous bunch? GAD owes its success to multiple factors – but it would never be what it is today without the energy and ambition of the legal community. Several law firms have shared the GAD challenge and some of them have raised over $100,000 per year. When business partners and employees have shared the GAD story, reached into their pockets and shown that they care, the response has been priceless.

4.       GAD thrives on both collaboration and competition

Lots of people give generously to support charitable organizations.  But we especially love to do it in community. GAD thrives when workplaces and communities combine forces to raise awareness and money. I love it when the Riverdale community in Toronto has a “Wine & Cheese Harambee” or team of articling students arranges “Give a Night” to bring profile to the issue of HIV and raise money while they’re at it.

But GAD also benefits from our natural competitive nature. Hospital groups and law firms alike have tried to outdo their peers in raising the most money.  Who can out-give the best givers?

5.       This baby needs nurturing

For all its natural potential and organic nature, GAD needs perpetual nurturing to fulfil its potential.  I have observed the “issue-attention cycle” and the reality of donor fatigue. Complex, longstanding challenges like the HIV pandemic will not be resolved overnight. Survival of the GAD movement requires reminders that the drivers of the HIV pandemic are not easily resolved and our ongoing support is essential.

6.       We can’t stop now!

It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like the hurdles are insurmountable. But the task of addressing HIV has become “the most ambitious public health undertaking of our lifetimes” (Gonsalves). And what’s more? We’re actually winning! When GAD started in 2004, only 400,000 people were receiving anti-retroviral medication. There are now over 6 million people on such life-saving medications and a cure for HIV is actively being pursued. We must never give up.

I still have a dream that the GAD movement will spread around the world. Please join us in our efforts.

How can you help now?

  1. Share this. Tweet this.
  2. Plan now to give one day’s pay on World AIDS Day, December 1.
  3. Follow us on Twitter.
  4. Like us on Facebook.
  5. Join our mailing list.
  6. Engage your community or workplace in a GAD campaign.
  7. Plan a harambee.
  8. Leave us a comment, a question or a note of encouragement.

The Toll of AIDS

Dr. Winnie Siu, Give a Day supporter writes…Her name was Grace and I met her at an orphanage on the outskirts of the city of Lusaka, toward the end of a two-month research project in Zambia’s capital city. A friend had been volunteering at the home for girls left parentless by AIDS and wondered if I might want to come along.

Grace was a quiet and serious girl, and while the other girls danced and played and laughed around me, Grace took me by the hand and led me to the blackboard to practise her writing. I watched with a lump in my throat as she formed slow, careful strokes with the chalk in her hand, writing the facts of her life for me: “I was born in 1999. . . My mother died when I was a baby. My mother was ill. My father was ill also. . . have never seen my father or my mother before.”

Continue reading Dr. Siu’s story here.