Saturday, August 19, 2006

So now the XVI International AIDS Conference is over. What a week! It was exhausting and exciting, educational and engaging. I almost didn’t want it to end. That is, until I thought of how my legs ached from all the standing, walking, and running! LOL

I’ve been so privileged to have been a part of this. I have met some truly wonderful people whose friendship I already treasure. I’ve learned so much. My team (as loosely-constructed as it was) was great – fun and dedicated to the best of their ability.

My last shift of volunteer work was on Thursday, so I was able to catch up with my new friend Dana and sit in on the closing session on Friday. What an experience!

One of the cultural kick-offs to the session was Glenn Marais, a singer-songwriter who performed his song, “Like a Child”. The lyrics got to me as he sang about children who are orphaned by AIDS and have no one to look after them.

Just as I was recovering my composure, Dr. Mark Wainberg, Co-Chair of the conference, started his speech thanking the various people involved in making the conference happen. When he thanked the almost 2000 volunteers, the delegates erupted – roared - into vigorous and heartfelt applause and some even gave the volunteers a standing ovation. After all the hard work and confusion and everybody trying so hard to make this the best possible experience for the delegates, their appreciation was just so great and really, really appreciated.

Kecia Larkin, a native Canadian who is HIV-positive, spoke about the AIDS epidemic that is ravaging native populations in Canada. I was ashamed of our country’s horrible record in dealing with native peoples.

Stephen Lewis spoke – and he was on fire. All I can do is ask you to watch the webcast (or download the podcast) located here. He is an incredible human being, with such an urgent message. Please take the time to catch what he has to say. (His speech, if that is all that you would like to catch, starts around 59:30. It lasts until approximately 1:27:00.

I don’t think the conference was perfect (there were so many sessions that delegates had difficulty networking, for example, and certain issues should have been discussed but weren’t due to fear of some delegates that they and their families would be punished by their own governments) but I believe it was definitely worthwhile.

Now, all that's left is the delivery of treatment, prevention, and research to stop this epidemic in its tracks.

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