This past Sunday I had the opportunity to speak at the VIPWA/VARCS International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. As I am not one for expressing myself through language, preparing a speech was a daunting task for me – I almost chickened out at the last-minute. While most people find public speaking difficult, I am not afraid to stand up and speak in front of an audience. That being said, the concept of speaking about HIV/AIDS in front of people living with HIV/AIDS intimidated me. I was unsure of how to express myself and fearful that I might offend someone or offer statistic information that was out of date or incorrect.
I’m glad that I strummed up the courage to speak. It was a wonderful experience and those in attendance came with open minds and open hearts. Love could be felt all around as we huddled together in the cold to keep our candles burning bright.
Here is a rough draft of my speech detailing the Red Bicycle Tour.
Before I begin I would like to recite the lyrics from a song that my brother Roland and I have chosen to perform during this evenings memorial.
No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?
Pink Floyd’s track On the Turning Away was released in 1987. Over 24 years have passed since the date of it’s release and the message continues to be timeless.
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”
These words may just well be my mantra as I embark on the adventure of a lifetime. The adventure I have affectionately dubbed The Red Bicycle Tour is a charity ride to raise funds for local non profits VARCS and VIPWA offering support to People Living with HIV/AIDS in Victoria, YouthCO, Canada’s first Youth Driven Organization supporting those living with HIV/AIDS and HEP C in Vancouver and last but not least Ukulpaha, a grass-roots organization providing support to orphan headed households and families with vulnerable children in the KwaZulu – Natal province of South Africa.
The journey begins on my 32nd birthday, June 25th, 2011. Having travelled to Prudhoe Bay, more than 400 km north of the arctic circle, my boyfriend Brian and I will depart Deadhorse, AK, to cycle the full length of the Pan-American Hwy until we reach Ushiaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Over a period of 300 days Brian and I will live in the simplicity of nature. With our tent, sleeping bags, food, spare tire tubes and other essentials loaded onto our touring bicycles we will travel from town to town to visit with non – profits and individuals advocating to support people living with HIV/AIDS. We will work together to raise awareness and fight stigma and we will speak openly about the disease and the issues that surrounding it in order to dispel the myths and misconceptions that lead to prejudice and stigma.
Let me end by saying that I am not alone when I stand up and say that I believe HIV/AIDS is the forgotten epidemic. Lets shine a light on the humanity of those who are living with the disease. Lets educate communities and show them that those living with HIV/AIDS can lead happy and productive lives with the help of peer support programs, community support and adequate drug therapy.