World AIDS Day in Tanzania - 2018
Three Events in One Day
Each year, HEAL celebrates and honors the lives of those who have been infected and affected by HIV/AIDS on December 1st - World AIDS Day. This year, we had the privilege of participating in three events all on this special day! We partnered both with Meru District and Arusha Region to provide service at every level in our community.
In the morning, we had the privilege of taking part in the Meru District event hosted by Meru District Hospital and led by Dr. Sango, the District AIDS Control Coordinator. We traveled as a team to the bottom of the mountain to meet in Tengeru, where we led outreach during a busy market day. Our team was asked to support and encourage people to get tested for HIV, and also to provide a safe space to allow the community to ask any questions they had. It was a successful event with 414 members in the community choosing for themselves to get tested, leaving our team feeling fulfilled and a part of something bigger than ourselves. This event ended with a memorable conversation with a woman about her son’s HIV diagnosis. Our Health Officer Haroun Jeremia answered all of her questions, reassured her that he can live a long and healthy life, as well as connected her with government resources to support her son. Overall, this first event set the tempo of high energy and excitement for the rest of the day.
In the afternoon, our team provided support to Arusha Region’s event coordinated by Dr. Haika, the Regional AIDS Control Coordinator. Their event provided HIV testing and education to the community about HIV. It was held at a Kilombero market, a busy area in Arusha City, and attracted doctors from the regional and district hospitals, as well as government members from the City of Arusha. This event had many partners including Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Jhpiego.
Finally, in the evening, our team set up our own World AIDS Day event, but this year it would be new and different, one that Arusha has never seen before - a candlelight vigil. Our event was hosted at the Arusha Declaration Museum, near The Uhuru Torch monument in Arusha town. We chose this location for the symbolism it represents - Tanzania’s freedom. It is seen as a reminder of strength, perseverance and community, as the torch was to bring light across the country. It is said the torch will bring hope where there is despair, love where there is enmity, and respect where there is hatred - the perfect place for us to light candles, to bring our light, love and show respect around a stigmatizing topic such as HIV and AIDS.
Because our event was focused on shining a light on the HIV epidemic, and to bring hope to those who are affected, there were plenty of lights twinkling at our venue. We hung beautiful white lights all around from the entrance of the event to the trees behind our candle stands. When guests arrived, they passed by our HEAL International backdrop for photos with signs with positive World AIDS Day messages saying, “Everyone has an HIV status” “Together we will create an AIDS free generation” and “HIV stigma stops with me”, and visitors were excited to share their photos on their social media to spread love and positivity surrounding HIV. Guests then followed our path of tea-light candles to different activity stations. We had a video playing that shared about HEAL’s work in Tanzania, a table for guests to ask questions about HIV, a station to memorialize a loved one lost to HIV, or to write a message to show support for people living with HIV or caring for those with HIV, all while peaceful music quietly played. The most memorable moment for our team was lighting the candles after a bus full of university students arrived. Everyone at the event came together, lighting candles, as we shared a moment of silence for those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. It was a beautiful and unforgettable moment to share with our community. It was a perfect ending, to a perfect day, one where we were truly together with our community, partners, and other organizations in Arusha to remember, honor, love and respect those we have lost, and those living with HIV.
HEAL International’s Second Annual World AIDS Day event in Tanzania will be in our hearts for a lifetime, with many memories, new friends, and new partnerships. Our Candlelight Vigil could not have been achieved without the help of The Arusha Declaration Museum, Meru District Hospital, and the Arusha Region. We are honored to work in Arusha and inspired by the members of our community who continue to love and support those affected by HIV. We are already looking forward to next year’s World AIDS Day event in Tanzania!