Share talent, break HIV stigma 

I was honoured to be selected by IAS to participate at the 24th International AIDS Conference. AIDS2022 took in place in Montreal between 27 July and 2 August.

Let me first of all state that everyone, including me, was so disappointed that so many participants where denied visa by the Canadian Government. I was looking forwards to meet Delegates from Burundi and other parts of Africa, butso many did not make it in the end. If Governments continue to exclude delegates from countries where the pandemic hits hardest, how will we end HIV in 2030?

Now on to my time at AIDS2022. I kicked off strong right away! On the 27th of July I was a speaker on the 9th International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS. I was humbled to share the experiences of the indigenous (Batwa) community of Burundi. To me it is clear – all over the World indigenous people are still facing inequalities, leading to relatively higher numbers of indigenous people affected by HIV and AIDS whilst also facing reduced access to HIV education and care givers. We cannot end HIV and AIDS when we leave indigenous people behind!

Panel member of the Indigenous pre-conference

There is still much so much to do around education, awareness raising, access to health campaigns for the indigenous community. This is true at least for my home country Burundi, hence also my commitment to breaking this trend. This event gave me refreshing insights into working with indigenous people to address HIV/ AIDS and other pandemics, and planted the seeds for new  partnerships in Burundi and elsewhere.

Together with Karl Schmid from +life at the U=U Summit

My second major activity was to participate in the U=U Summit on the 28th of July where I was able to meet many of my fellow activists after so many years only communicating online. Did you know that there are still a lot of countries that are not endorsing U=U? This despite knowing that U=U is an immediate and effective response to destroy HIV Stigma  which is still a public health emergency. Again we have to keep on investing in finding the right ways to break HIV stigma!

Ready for action! The Stories of Hope stand at the Global Village

Which brings me to Stories of Hope! The main reason to be on this conference was to share my project through a 3-days exhibition at the Global Village from 29 July to 2 August . As many of you already know, Stories of hope is an initiative where  people living with HIV share their talents to break HIV stigma. The launch of Stories of Hope in 2021 was supported by EATG, and the exhibition was proudly supported by HIV vereniging through sponsoring of beautiful materials and hand-outs. Organising an exhibitions at the Global village, allowing me to meet so many activists, artists and conference participants gave me a such positive energy! I am so proud that Stories of hope has reached so many global delegates and that Stories of Hope unites us in breaking HIV stigma  by sharing our talent. 

Interacting with global delegates during the 3 days exhibition

There were so many amazing side events to still do around the conference. Just to highlight a few: I participated at the famous AIDS Conference party called “No pants, no Problem” where I performed  as  Eric the Drag King and performed a dance called “Flush out HIV stigma”. We actually managed to raise 12,000 Canadian Dollars during the event in support of HIV+ women. Eric the Drag King is another me you did not know about, right? Again another great way to share my talent to break HIV stigma. 

Eric the Drag King at No pants, no problem

I am very thankful to be part of AIDS2022. I want to extend a personal thank you to the Heroes of Hope who shared their stories during the conference; Adam, Matthew, Gloria and Faustine. And I know there are still more Stories of Hope to come from other people I met at AIDS2022. Keep an eye on Stories of Hope for more interviews and portraits!

Share talent, break HIV stigma!

Peace, 

Eliane  

One big HIV family

My lovely people, have I already told you how glad I am to be open about my status? I get to know more and more fabulous people in our HIV community wherever I go. And I love the way my HIV community keeps on growing. When we fight HIV stigma we need as many allies as possible.

In January this year I got in touch with a photographer from Dublin, Steven Doyle. He is not HIV positive, but he was a nurse in Romania during the height of AIDS epidemic in the 90’s where he worked with many children living with HIV and AIDS abandoned by their parents. Steven was taking care of them in hospitals and even adopted one of them, Nicu.

My HIV ally Steven

Eventually Nicu died at the age of 27. Ever since Steven’s work in Romania, he is vigorously fighting HIV stigma and discrimination through his activism and photography. His story moved me and we have so many things in common, see for example my story on HIV medication exchange for people living with HIV in Romania.

Inspired by Steven’s story I decided to join his project where he is collecting stories and portraits of people living with HIV all over the World. I consider Steven my newest HIV STIGMA family member.

So, in May Steven invited me and my husband for the photo exhibition in Dublin, Ireland. I was very excited and also curious to get to know the other HIV models. And I found that at least 3 of them are my EATG colleagues, what a small World!

In Ireland I was able to connect with new people like wonderful Gerry, who introduced me to the big HIV network in Ireland, for example HIV Ireland. One day he also showed us around in his family’s  magical garden where he told us so many stories about edible and medicinal plants, what an experience! He showed us the beautiful Kildare Cathedral where I learned much about Saint Brigid of Kildare, a very important Irish Female Saint. Gerry is truly doing a lot for the HIV community in Ireland.

Enjoying the photo exhibition with Gerry

And then came the surprise invitation of Robbie and the Fabulous Drag Queen Veda Lady who are the hosts of the Poz vibe Podcast for people living with HIV, their friends, family and allies. There I also met Jordie, and my ally Steven was also part of the podcast. While all our stories are unique and inspiring, we are all connected by beating our common enemy “HIV STIGMA”. We shared many tears and laughter that afternoon. Overall, through our common experiences we realised that we are heading into the right direction and that our efforts are not in vain. Talking about HIV openly is definitely the right way to normalise HIV.

Veda Lady and Robbie

Yet, I would like to say one word of caution as, to me, the migrant HIV community is still not vocal enough, whether in Ireland or my own country the Netherlands. So I do hope my and other stories will keep on inspiring them to join us.

I would like to thank Steven for introducing me to my allies in Ireland and helping the HIV community to share our stories through our beautiful faces. Also hugs and kisses to Veda Lady and Robbie Lawlor for working so hard to make sure the positive voices of people living with HIV are being heard by the World. And Jordi, thank you so much for inspiring the young and queer world to living a fabulous positive life. Last but not least, I am thanking generous Gerry for his contribution to HIV Stigmafighter’s work in Burundi!

Let us keep up the good work, the world needs more people like us. Feel welcome to join our battle because HIV STIGMA MUST FALL!

Peace,

Eliane

A bouquet of problems

My birthday month, November, had a great start by doing what I like most, giving my HIV activism a boost. Between 4-7 November I was in Istanbul for a face-to-face ‘Skills Training to Empower Patients’ (STEP-UP) and networking weekend organized by the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) Training Academy.

After more than a year of online training because of Covid 19, I got a chance to finally meet my fellow European and Asian HIV activists and advocates. Everyone was dying to meet and finally get to know each other more and share our experiences because in the end it is really about community voices. It was quite interesting to experience the difference between zoom meetings and ‘real’ talks together.

As we all came from different parts of Europe and Central Asia we had to speak different languages, so some were speaking English and others Russian. But in the end we all share the same goal and then language barriers can be overcome. While chatting with different people and listening to presentations, I realized that we all share what I call a “Bouquet of problems”;  Stigma, discrimination and criminalization.

During the weekend I learnt so many new insights. For example, my friends from Greece and Georgia shared with us that among people using drugs, women are way more stigmatised than men. Or that in some countries mothers living with HIV are still criminalised when breastfeeding and that they are not receiving any support from the health system to obtain baby formula or do medical checks during their breastfeeding period. 

Yet, all the new information led me to ask so many questions. For example, why are especially women still so vulnerable to attack and deliberate stigmatision? There are so many new developments and guidelines, for example on breastfeeding, there is U=U, etc. In 2021, women living with hiv should not be criminalised at all. I am telling you, no mother would wish to transmit HIV to her child on purpose!  

It shocked me to hear that there are still 130 (!) countries where people living with HIV are injustly criminalised, and in 50 countries we can be prosecuted because they have outdated laws related to sexual, but also on spitting, biting and even breastfeeding. People, after 40 years of HIV/AIDS, instead of being stigmatised we must focus our fight on removing inequalities and to demand the right to access HIV treatment and receive good medical care.

Our training was epic, there was no taboo, we talked about many topics and received useful tools that we can use in our communities. It feels like I have known this group for such a long time as we shared so many laughs, jokes and fun. It made me wonder what more we could have achieved if we could have done all sessions face-to-face instead of via zoom. I gained so many friends, which is fantastic. These moments of togetherness bring back humanity to our lives.

By Sunday, we all went back home empowered with knowledge that we will share with our community and use to convince our decision-makers and politicians to DECRIMINALISE people living with HIV!

Thank you EATG for organising the STEP-UP training and making this such an inspiring weekend, we shall meet again my Activist Friends. Keep up the fight, we are on the winning side since we DARE to speak up about our bouquet of problems!

Peace,

Eliane 

My Heroes of Hope

As an African artist living with HIV in the Netherlands for more than 15 years now, I continue to experience a lot of stigma and discrimination based on me being open about my HIV and my beautiful colour. I realized that for many people with a migrant background stigma is indeed still a major issue. So, in April this year I launched Stories of Hope which aims to inspire people to share their talent as a positive way to deal with and raise awareness about stigma.

On 18 July, Mandela Day, together with the other ‘Heroes of Hope’ we shared our stories with the world!

Sharing our stories on Mandela’s birthday was a perfect moment as he continues to be a big inspiration to me and the world. I have learned a lot from his life experience as a freedom fighter, reconciler, unifier and inspirer. In the spirit of Mandela’s legacy, I truly believe that Stories of Hope will give people inspiration to fight stigma and bring positive change in our communities.

Stories of Hope can be visited at www.storiesofhope.nl. My dream is that our collection will continue to grow in the Netherlands and also beyond. Please vist the website and feel free to connect me to people that would like to share their inspiring stories with us. We believe in your talent and let’s fight stigma together!

A very special thank you to the European Aids Treatment Group for supporting me to make Stories of Hope happen!

Peace,

Eliane

I AM… OPEN

Hello my lovely people. It is always great to have something to keep you positively busy during these strange Covid times. So I am very excited to share a new initiative called stories of hope with you. I will be leading this for the coming 4 months.

Just a little background: I was lucky to follow the STEP- UP training organised by the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG). Together with many other HIV activists and advocates I gained a lot of extra knowledge on HIV. EATG also gave us the opportunity to pitch a project we are passionate about and I decided to share my dream of reaching out to people living with HIV with a migrant background with them.

And guess what? My project was selected and I received a small grant to launch stories of hope! This is such a great opportunity because as HIV stigmafighter I dare to speak out against anyone who stigmatises or discriminates people in my city Amersfoort, the Netherlands and Worldwide.

I love Amersfoort and during my time here, I experienced stigma from healthcare providers, people on the street and employers. It happens everywhere, right now! So I want other talented people that never let stigma stand in their way to join me and inspire people still facing stigma today.

My journey will start in Liendert, an urban area with more than 7,500 people of which 52% has a migrant background. I want to reach out to them and provide a safe space for them to process and share stories related to stigma in our community. Through my partners Het Huis van Bartels, a green oasis in the heart of Liendert, I will work with people with a migrant background and tap into their unique talents to open up and share their story.

And I have evidence this works! What would I have done without my talent as an artist? It helped me to accept my hiv status and focus on positive messages of hope for the hiv community. Even before I was diagnosed with hiv I already shared my talents and I realised that hiv did not change who I am. Through the support of organisations such as hello gorgeous, hiv vereniging and many others, I regained my identity and came out stronger than ever before. Now it is time for me to take action and inspire change in my community.

And you can be a local hero too! If you like my poster, get in touch and join my growing pool of talents through your own poster!

Are you getting excited as well? Join me through my facebook page or the website.

Have a great weekend.

Peace ,

Eliane