Each year during the first weekend of September the Airborne March, commemorating the 1944 battle of Arnhem, is organised in Oosterbeek. I did this beautiful walk for the first time in 2019, just before the corona pandemic. This year, my wish to walk once again with my neighbour and friend, Wanda and Norma, was finally granted. It was a very hot day but we managed to get to the finish.
What really inspired me was the diversity of people during this march! Young and old people, mothers with children in strollers, people with a disability… I asked a woman of respectable age with a stroller “How many kilometers are you walking?” and she replied with determination “10 kilometers!”. I was very proud of her. I also asked a young girl how many times she joined the march and she said that it was her 6th time already. So I asked how she did this, and she said that since she was baby, her grandparents carried her with them and that this was the first time she could walk the march all by herself!
Overall the event is real fun, even people encouraging us along the street were very engaged. Some offered us, complete strangers, to use their toilet in their home, provided water to people and pets (yes, in the Netherlands people are dog lovers), offered fruits, sweets, and biscuits. I read a lot of appreciation of what we were doing.
I concluded that it does not matter where you come from, you can participate no matter what you look like or in which shape you are. This day is really all inclusive and helps to unite people, both participants and spectators. Together we inspire each other to both continue to remember and learn from the past, yet also shape the outlines of an inclusive future.
That day I learned that remembering the past does not mean only focusing on the negativity, it is also an opportunity to educate the younger generation and encourage them and apply the learning to keep making a positive impact in our communities.
So, what if we also strive for more diversity and inclusion in our HIV community, where we still face so many issues around HIV prevention and stigma and discrimination? Where we are still struggling to reach vulnerable people that are marginalised? Let us learn from events such as the Airborne March how we in the HIV community can unite people living with HIV, onlookers, and care givers to fight HIV stigma!
For the Airborne March I can now proudly add a wing to my medal. A win-win situation since it helps me to maintain my healthy new me lifestyle and it inspires me to keep fighting together for a stigma free world.