Community Perspectives on Living with HIV and where we go From Here

March 25, 2019

On Tuesday, March 19, more than 60 community members gathered at SFU’s Surrey campus for  ‘Community Perspectives on Living with HIV and Where We Go From Here’ – a lecture as part of the President’s Dream Colloquium. The event was facilitated by many stakeholders and brought together the next generation of researchers, policy-makers, activists, artists and advocates to share a diversity of perspectives, from community leaders and activists like Bernard Andreason, advocate for indigenous communities affected by HIV, to those on the front lines, including Patience Magagula, director of the Afro-Canadian Positive Network of B.C.

The event began with a very special Indigenous welcome provided by Kevin Kelly, from Kwantlen First Nation. A very special moment of the welcome was when Kevin noticed a woman in the audience who he thought might need a bit of support; he sensed she could use a kind word. Kevin went over to this woman, asked if she could use a hug, and when she agreed Kevin gave a gentle hug as tears rolled down the women’s cheek. From the look on her face you could tell she really appreciated Kevin’s gentle kindness. The gesture was somewhat of a foreshadow of what was to come in the evening. People talking from their heart, from lived experience.

The audience heard from  keynote speakers who shared their life experiences, and participated in interactive brainstorming sessions focusing on the obstacles migrants face when diagnosed with HIV. These include language barriers, PTSD, culture shock, stigmatization, self-stigmatization, loneliness, discrimination and a lack of resources and support available. HIV is not a crime, choice or lifestyle, and through support, resources and education, each of the challenges faced can be overcome.

It was humbling and eye-opening to listen to these stories and share a dialogue aimed at recognizing the need to simply care about each other. As more newcomers make Surrey their home, it is increasingly important that we consider cultural and ethnic barriers when delivering treatment and support services for HIV.