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Sever(e) Stigma: On Sadness, Joy, and HIV/AIDS

I write about this day with both sadness and joy.

With sadness, I write for many.

I write for my friends who died way too young because of HIV/AIDS complications. I still think about them and wonder if they would still be alive if they had no stigma to think of before getting help, and if - to begin with - help is something they could have easily accessed. With them as inspiration, I made sure to learn more about this disease and the ways in which I can help.

I write for the people who became dear to me - directly or indirectly - when I decided to support a campaign headed by my dear internship mentor in college - Louie Cano. He is not with us anymore, I still feel guilty for not checking on him often and not even knowing of his passing until months after. What he started with the Aware campaign in Metro Manila, Philippines is still close to my heart. Since then, I've tried to find spaces to continue supporting the cause.

I write for people I do not know personally but whom I would instantly relate to because one way or another, they have had tough experiences with dealing with HIV/AIDS - whether, like me, they have lost someone close to them, or had it first-hand. We still have a long way to go given all the evident hardships of many up until now, but it would not sit right if we discount all the sincere efforts and progress made to address this pressing local and global concern.

So with joy, I write for many, too.

I write for advocacy groups and selfless volunteers who continue to spread awareness and help stop the stigma on HIV/AIDS. I know and have met amazing beings who are part of this movement, and it warms my heart to know that there is an abundance of goodness in people, especially in doing something to change the narrative.

I write for friends and acquaintances who bravely faced this disease and was able to live fully again. People whom I continue to admire for moving past all the stigma that came with the disease and chose to be hopeful, to begin again. May we not be the reason why they stop doing so, and instead be the reason they choose to heal and grow.

I write for people who choose to learn about HIV/AIDS. There are more and more people learning and choosing to find ways to support, may it be in small spaces or in big organizations. We are in need of more loving and understanding communities, and it should start from us unlearning harmful myths and taboos, and relearning love and compassion.

I write with both sadness and joy, and that is okay. Because with sadness, we learn, and with joy, we love.

written by Allison Atis

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