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  

Ambassador of Hope

Today we are celebrating one year Stories of Hope! And we have achieved so much since our official launch on 18 July 2021, Mandela Day. Early last year, we started Stories of Hope with two Heroes, and since then our community has grown to eleven Heroes already!

You may remember that last year we highlighted the important role that Nelson Mandela fulfilled throughout his life for vulnerable people facing stigma of any kind.

Today, on Nelson’s birthday, we are proud to share a touching interview with our friend Adam Castillejo, and a true Ambassador of Hope for the global HIV community. We do hope that Adam will also be an inspiration to all of us!

Meanwhile we are very busy preparing for AIDS2022 as next week around this time we will be travelling to Montreal. We are so excited to connect to fellow activists, role models, and so many more inspiring people.

We also set ourselves a target, namely to capture and share at least one new Story of Hope on each conference day! To make this happen, we really need YOU!

So reach out to us and visit the Stories of Hope booth GVE013 at AIDS2022!

Going global at AIDS2022

We proudly announce that Stories of Hope will be part of the Global Village at AIDS2022 in Montreal, Canada, which will be held between 29 July and 02 August 2022.

So, nearly one year after our launch, succesfully collecting and showcasing the stories of 11 Heroes and distributing exclusive Stories of Hope postcards through various healthcare providers in the Netherlands, Stories of Hope will go global!

At the Global Village we will:

  1. Showcase three original portraits of our Heroes of Hope, and share the Stories of Hope concept with the wider HIV/ AIDS community
  2. Share sample health cards with Global Village visitors and discuss roll-out of more versions in other countries
  3. Organise rapid story telling workshops to record more inspiring stories of talented People Living with HIV/ AIDS visiting the Global Village
  4. Create new Stories of Hope to be launched during AIDS2022

If you will be visiting AIDS2022 and are interested to share your Story of Hope or want to learn more about how you can contribute to reducing HIV stigma in your country, get in touch!

Precious Powerwoman

Today we celebrate International women’s Day.

As women, how are we doing? How well are we in seizing power in a male-dominated World?

Maya ANGELOU once said:” My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style”.

If we want to fulfil her mission, we must continue to fight for equal rights for women every day. It is up to us to create a world…

Where we can thrive, where nothing will stop us from achieving our goals,

that protects our dignity with passion, and

where we show compassion, allowing no space for discrimination or stigmatisation.

Let us stay focused on our mission with humor and style!

For Stories of Hope we are proudly sharing the amazing story of young powerwoman Precious who turned her pain into courage to never let HIV stigma stand in her way. Please welcome Precious as a hero of hope!

Happy International Women’s Day 2022. #BreakTheBias

How to build confidence in a day

My lovely people, February is called by many Valentine’s month. It is considered a romantic month, and for me it is also called birthday month as it is my lovely husband’s birthday on Valentine’s day. This month we chose to celebrate his 51st birthday in Rome.

Why Rome? I grew up with in a strong catholic family with religious parents. In my youth I was a priest helper, I was part of a church dance group and I grew up with catholic values. I always believed Rome was the Holy City; As a child I did not know that the Vatican was actually a state in Rome where the Pope resided, I thought He lived in Rome and his church was called Vatican.

In 1990 Pope John Paul II visited my country Burundi. I kept very sweet memories of that and since I always fantasized of being in the Vatican one day, to see where the Pope lived. Later on, during high school we also learned so much about history and the important influence of the Roman empire and Christianity as one of the world religions with its seat in the Vatican.

But when I was told in 2003 that I was going to die because of my HIV, I thought that I would never be able to visit the Saint Peter Square in the Vatican or see the place where gladiators, like in the movie, would never give up until their last breath. So having overcome the hurdle of access to HIV medication, my WILL to visit Rome on day only increased. I really wanted to fulfill that childhood dream.

So when my husband asked me which city in Europe I wanted to visit, there was no doubt that this should be Rome. So finally, after these horrible covid times I said “darling, let’s go to Rome to celebrate your birthday. Carpe Diem!” He asked why Rome? I explained that I had been dreaming of this since I was a kid, to see where Pope lives and set my foot in the Vatican, and to tell HIV that my dreams can still come through!

The mighty Colosseum

And it did come true! We visited Rome from 10 to 15 February. First we visited the colosseum, an incredible structure, considering it is almost 2,000 years old! Only when you are there, you are able to realise what immense power these Roman emperors literally held. It is not difficult to also feel the pain and injustice done to the slaves that built it. The whole area around the Colosseum, on the Palatine hill and around the Forum, you start realising how sophisticated and hard working the common people and slaves were. Rome was certainly not built in one day, and surely not by the Romans themselves!

The Pope’s favourite chair

Then it was time for the massive and beautiful Saint Peter Basilica, the domain of the Pope. It is so impressive. We were lucky to visit the Vatican gardens with their three styles; the English, Italian and French gardens. After 12.00, once the tourists have left, this is where you will see the Pope meditate. The most touching story involved ‘my’ Pope John Paul II again, who I really kept in my memory since his visit to Burundi. We passed by a garden where he used to come daily to pray next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Although there were many different chairs in that garden, he was not conformtable on any of them. So the gardener made a very simple seat out of a wooden log for him. And fromt that moment, when he sat in it, he felt the connection. He felt ‘grounded’, rooted to the earth and ever since it became his special seat. I was so happy to sit on that chair. It made me feel so unique!

Rome is beautiful and vibrant! It takes some time to really appreciate the city, but once you do, you see so many beautiful things. It is when you notice that each bridge over the Tiber river is special in its own way. For example, you will notice the Jazz bands playing on the Ponte Sisto on Sunday afternoons and see people taking time to enjoy life. And see me joining them, dancing, to become part of that amazing spontaneous atmosphere, ‘whipping’ others to make the whole bridge one giant open air Jazz festival!

Yes, I have seen with my own eyes that Rome was not built in one day… My acceptance of living with HIV also took what seemed millions of days to come to a point where I was able to enjoy the confidence I re-built myself. But in the end, my HIV did not become my limitation to give up on my dream to visit Rome. 

So, despite Rome not having been built in one day, NEVER forget that it only takes one day, one short moment, to enjoy life to the fullest.

Life is really too short to waste it!

Peace,

Eliane

World AIDS day 2021

It’s world AIDS day and, although AIDS continues to kill people and people living with hiv/ AIDS continue to face inequalities, there is a growing number of stories of hope.

This week I met two more people cured of HIV. While they highlighted how they experienced love from others whilst battling cancer and living with hiv, they also received hate and judgement. Stigma is still a big issue. Yet, their stories fill us with hope; that one day we will end hiv and AIDS, and that we must begin our journey by ending stigma and inequalities based on gender, income and race.

While conveying their message of hope, I am also very proud to contribute to the fight against inequalities by sharing two new stories of hope today. I know that Anna and Perry will inspire you with their own stories about overcoming hiv stigma by using their talents.

Don’t let hiv stand in your way!

Peace,

Eliane

Memorable summer of 2021

Whilst we are nearing the end of a rainy summer, I would like to reflect on my summer time. It was actually very enjoyable no matter how I look at it! It started excellent by hearing news from my diabetes doctor that I was allowed to stop 3 more pills of my medication.

Then there was Mandela Day on the 18th of July where we shared our Stories of Hope through a photo exposition, and I had a great celebratory closing party with my heroes!

A few days later I celebrated my kids’ birthdays which all of you know happen for all three of them within 4 days! My oldest daughter turned 20, one of my sons 15 and the other 13. What a blessed week for all of us. 

Then we took off for a few days in the South of the Netherlands, Maastricht. What a beautiful place and surroundings. It was a short stay but full of sportive activities as I like to keep my Healthy New Me in shape! We walked hills, went into caves which still made me accomplish my sports targets every single day during my holiday! And on top of that we went one day on an (e-)bike and mounted some impressive hills with equally impressive names like the Dead man’s alley (Dodemansweg in Dutch). I was so proud to be able to get to the top of these hills and admire the incredible view. Who says Holland is flat?

Despite the many showers it was real fun to cycle together and sometimes get surprised by a shower and hide under a tree, still ending up wet because of the drops getting through the leafs. We never gave up, no matter how the weather wanted to stand in our way.  It was a truly memorable time in Limburg.

Back in my hometown, I was just on time to join Amsterdam Pride. It was my lucky day because on many years whilst in the Netherlands, Pride week would always happen when I am on holidays abroad, so this time I could attend for the first time! Joining the Pride as part of the BI plus walk and wearing my HIV stigmafighter t-shirt and U=U bandana also allowed me to spread the message of UequalsU and to fight HIV stigma.

Being part of the Pride helped me to convey these two messages to a few more people. It felt great joining so many activists and LGBTQ+ communities in march. I keep on dreaming to one day see people in my country Burundi wave the Rainbow flag like here!

Beautiful people, Do not let the fear of corona conquer your life! As long as you try to stick to the rules, it’s ok to have a little fun. We really should accept for us to live with corona for many years to come and start adapting to the situation, dealing with it just like we have dealt with many other pandemics.

Nelson Mandela once said that “A WINNER IS A DREAMER WHO NEVER GIVES UP”. Who know one day we will win this battle? keep on fighting for change!

I had a great, fruitful and memorable summer of 2021.

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

Meet our Heroes!

Today, Mandela Day 2021, we proudly present our very first eight Stories of Hope! Since we started to work with our Heroes in April this year, we collected stories related to HIV, depression and vitiligo. Our aim is to grow Stories of Hope into a platform where people facing stigma are able to share their unique experience on how stigma can be overcome through their talents.

There is no better moment to share our first collection of Stories of Hope than Mandela Day as Mandela continues to be a big inspiration to the world. In the spirit of Mandela’s legacy, we truly believe that Stories of Hope will give people inspiration to fight stigma and bring positive change in our communities. In the words of the great Nelson Mandela: “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

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