Embracing the spirit of our community festivals to Confront HIV

Embracing the spirit of our community festivals to Confront HIV

October 16, 2023
Chantal Mukandoli
Peer Ambassador for HIV self-testing, WHIWH; Co-Chair of ICW in North America
Interested in contributing to the I-AM blog? Your story, ideas and insight matter. Whether you’re from a Community Based Organization, independent, or otherwise, we’d love to hear from you!
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In a world where we get overwhelmed with information, there are certain conversations that remain wrapped in stigma, fear, and misunderstanding. HIV, for example is a topic that's been misunderstood for decades.

This is where community events like Afrofest go beyond mere kit distribution. They've become high spirit outlets for meaningful change!

When it comes to distributing HIV testing kits at Afrofest, it's not a simple hand-off; it's an opportunity for people to tell their stories, engage, educate, and connect with each other. For too long the stigma around HIV testing and prevention has held back communities from seeking help.

At the heart of Afrofest's effective approach is the power of storytelling. By sharing personal narratives and experiences, we can all spread the word, raise awareness, and hope to rewrite some of the misinformation floating out there. This is so much more than just giving out kits.

We're tackling head-on the stigma that often accompanies traditional testing methods. Many people fear the judgment associated with going to clinics and hospitals. This is purely fear-driven, by the belief that a positive diagnosis carries shame.

We are changing the game by distributing HIV self-testing (a process as simple as a finger prick) at events and festivals Canada-wide. This approach gives full autonomy to an individual, giving them the control to take care of their health.

This bravery and resilience are beacons of hope, demonstrating that HIV does not define a person.

At Afrofest, education is not just a word; it's a cornerstone. The power of a personal connection cannot be overstated. Our approach transcends pamphlets and flyers, reaching into the hearts and minds of the ACB (African, Caribbean, and Black) community. A smile, a handshake, and a genuine conversation can mean the world.

One conversation I had at Afrofest this season surrounded the misconception that individuals living with HIV simply cannot physically look great. They believed that an HIV-positive diagnosis equates to looking "dirty" or "ugly". Another Afrofest attendee, initially even jumped to the assumption that the personal experiences I was openly sharing were somehow tied to my being paid by a third party company.

This conversation clearly underlines the need for more open dialogue and education, and the power of a personal connection cannot be overstated. As this person and I continued our chat, they quickly saw me as a compassionate volunteer, someone who has been down this same road.

Another interaction that resonated with me this year, was with a delightful gentleman (even though a bit misguided), 'Martin'. He believed that as an older, married individual with a loving wife, he couldn't possibly have, or be exposed to HIV. We chatted about this widely held misconception–– that getting older doesn't automatically mean immunity to HIV.

HIV does not discriminate based on age. Nor does it discriminate based on faith, sexual orientation, young or old.

I was also struck by hearing the continued misconceptions surrounding condom use. It's time to clear the air. Condoms aren't just about STI's. They're also about responsible family planning. Communication at events like Afrofest goes a long way to not only reduce stigma and discrimination, but to also help open minds.

By allowing community members like me, who are HIV positive, to discuss their stories, and address misconceptions and fears head-on, we're opening dialogues that can save lives. By explaining the basics of HIV self-testing and prevention, we're breaking down barriers, one meaningful conversation at a time.

And when we do, we're also shattering stereotypes. This bravery and resilience are beacons of hope, demonstrating that HIV does not define a person.

Afrofest is not just an event; it's a catalyst for change!

You are welcome to order your free test kits here. Plus explore, and access specific support, questions, and concerns. Or even if you just want to talk. Be assured this is a journey you never need to walk alone!

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