People suffering with HIV and AIDS are often cast into stereotypes, frequently judged, yet rarely given the chance to tell their story openly and without fear of discrimination. Therefore, on the 20th February at UCL, we welcomed the opportunity to hear the personal stories of Jay, Daisy and Nick, who bravely shared their experiences of living with HIV.
During the afternoon Florence and I, with the help of Mikhail from Imperial, wrote letters to MEPs on clear acetate requesting that they only support Fair Trade Agreements that are completely transparent and open to public scrutiny. Despite it being reading week and our sharpies consistently running out, we managed to get lots of letters signed and although we initially encouraged students over to the stall using chocolate, it was greatly heartening to see them leave fully supportive of the campaign, with some even deciding to write their own personal letters.
Despite being exhausted from several weeks on the road, Jay, Daisy and Nick gave deeply moving accounts of their experiences with HIV to a crowd of around 70 people from UCL, Imperial College, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and many enthusiastic members of the Restless Development office. It was fascinating to hear from Jay, a haemophiliac man who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion in China, Daisy, a sex worker from Uganda and Nick, a young man from Glasgow who discovered he was HIV positive on his 24th birthday. We have seen first-hand the diverse impact that HIV can have, affecting people across all countries, cultures and walks of life. However, what struck me most is the way these people chose to live with their HIV: in a positive, dynamic, life-affirming way whilst constantly striving to improve the lives of others living with the same condition. Jay’s efforts in a Buyer’s Club in China allowed his friends to access treatment they could afford; Daisy’s organisation in Uganda inspires fellow sex workers to test for and accept their HIV status and Nick’s creative writing workshops give people in the UK the support they need.
Judging by the awed silence of the room at the end of the talk, our speakers really affected the audience and hopefully spurred them on to take further action. It was a fantastic end to the Speaker Tour of 2014!