The HIVSTERS have completed their walk and managed to garner a little screen time to help share their message of support for men with HIV, and their continued fight against stigma. Watch the video below:
There’s many ways you can raise awareness of HIV. Online campaigns. Protests. Educational initiatives. Buy a red ribbon. Or hike from Victoria to South Australia.
Not everyone would have the resilience or determination to pick the last option, but this is precisely the reason why November will see community group, the HIVSTERS, putting on their best sneaks and walking 180km from Victoria to South Australia as part of their Cause We Can Camino. It’s all part of the group’s mission to challenge inaccurate perceptions that people with HIV are limited by their status.
Founded in Victoria at the start of 2016, HIVSTERS is an online-based forum where people with HIV can connect with and support each other through numerous community initiatives and events. The most ambitious of these is the Camino — named after the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain — where group members will be hiking from the southern Victorian town of Portland to Penola in South Australia’s wine region.
Apart from pounding the pavement, the group will be speaking at various events along the way, and engaging with regional communities at a grassroots level on the issues of HIV awareness, HIV prevention and combating stigma faced by people with HIV.
“Our mission is to dispel remaining myths that people living with HIV are somehow less capable of living full, rich lives or are restricted by their ‘condition’,” says the group. “HIV is not what it used to be. Treatments have changed and so should community perceptions. We are out to set the record straight.”
Another component of the Camino, and one of the missions of the HIVSTERS, is to address the issues of discrimination and stigma that many people with HIV still face. For participant and activist Stephen Watkins, this is one of his prime motivations for taking part in the event.
“The biggest challenge I faced after my diagnosis was worrying that I couldn’t cope with stigma and discrimination,” he says. “But seeing other people who were living happy and proud lives with HIV helped me realise that my life didn’t have to be limited.
I hope to show people that HIV has made me a stronger and more resilient person, and I hope that goes some way to challenge some preconceptions about positive people.”
The HIVSTERS get underway on Saturday November 5. If you would like to track their progress and leave a message of encouragement, visit their page here.