My week touring with inspirational HIV campaigners

Hannah Evans is Restless Development’s Network Support Officer  and joined Youth Stop AIDS on the first week of this year’s Speaker Tour. Here she shares her experience of touring around with inspirational campaigners with HIV.

Here’s how it went: five 20-somethings (our driver is 20-something at heart) and a bunch of campaign materials crammed into a seven-seater car, cruising across the Scottish highlands, campaigning irrefutably for better access to lifesaving medicines.

Along the way we unloaded our things and  our passion for change at eight  destinations:

Glasgow University > Glasgow Department of International Development (DFID) > BBC Scotland > Aberdeen University  > Dundee University > St. Andrews University > HIV Scotland >  Edinburgh University

Our two speakers for the first stretch of our month-long tour were Brian and Robbie. Brian and Robbie are both captivatingly charismatic chaps (I’m sure they won’t mind me saying), who are in their early twenties, and living with HIV.

The two of them caught the attention of their audiences by telling their admirably personal HIV stories at each of our 8 destinations across the 7 days. The best example of this perhaps being their impromptu interview at BBC Scotland on the first day of the tour, which was aired that very night to Scottish television sets.

Brian and Robbie at the BBC Scotland studios

They were given seven minutes of barely edited screen time, breaking down HIV stereotypes or misjudgements in an instant. Both even made room to give clear mention of our Missing Medicines campaign on a national media platform. You go guys.

Having grown up in dramatically different contexts; Brian from Uganda, Robbie from Ireland, audiences hearing their HIV stories are given the opportunity to see the real and varying faces of HIV before them. Both Robbie and Brian have had different experiences accessing HIV treatment in their home country. Come the end of their talks it’s all too sad yet easy to conclude that access to HIV treatment is time and again a mere post code lottery.

At Glasgow’s DFID office on the Monday of our tour, the civil servants attending took the opportunity after the talk to share how Robbie and Brian’s story’s had reminded them why they were doing their work. They shared that their work  often feels far removed from the lives they are working tirelessly to reach but this had brought them closer.

Wherever we went in fact, it was evident that Brian and Robbie’s openness about their intimate lives was a refreshing invitation to our audiences to be on the same level.  It made them feel comfortable to discuss and question a subject as silenced as HIV.

As one of the five twenty somethings myself on the road with the speakers, I was certainly no exception to this rule of openness. Having never exposed myself to ‘HIV talk’ beyond numerous screenings of RENT before the tour, let alone campaigning for HIV treatment, all my previous knowledge of the virus and the individuals it affects has been whitewashed.

After spending an intense bed-hopping week with two individuals who live with HIV  and who speak about it so knowledgeably and intently, I can tell you that HIV isn’t something to be afraid of/ ashamed of/ feel awkward about- in any way. This is not news to some- but definitely news to many.

Our Youth Stop AIDSers  promoting the Missing Medicines campaign

Parting ways at the end of the week was a strange feeling for the whole team, having quickly become each other’s constants amongst the changing sea of impassioned faces from one day to the next. Nevertheless, I left the week feeling the greatest sense of relief that I’ve had in a while.

Foremostly, HIV is one less thing out there that would previously envelop me in a pool of anxiousness when it was brought up- this was ousted by the first day of training. Secondly, I had spent the whole week meeting with, laughing with and sharing with complete strangers who shared the same drive as us to change the broken medicine  system we live in.

Ultimately, in just one week sitting in the passenger seat of a seven seater driving around Scotland, I came to know what HIV really is, and how our network has it in their sights to stop HIV developing into AIDS for good.

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My week touring with inspirational HIV campaigners

by wearerestless Reading time: 3 min