Walking to raise AIDS awareness

Annual event raises much-needed funds

Community members made lanterns to light the way in City Park Saturday evening during Kingston’s 15th annual AIDS Walk.
Community members made lanterns to light the way in City Park Saturday evening during Kingston’s 15th annual AIDS Walk.

Edward Nkole, ArtSci ’10, has seen the AIDS pandemic up close—the Queen’s student moved to Canada from Zambia a month ago.

“I’ve grown up in a generation in crisis,” he said. “When AIDS started in Africa, people ignored it—it was just a declaration of something happening until it happened to people I knew.”

Nkole said this is why walks such as Kingston’s AIDS Walk, held this past Saturday, are so important.

“It could easily become a major crisis here, too,” he said. “By coming here we’re bringing awareness to AIDS. When people see and hear things, awareness is raised, but it has to be done through the media.”

Nkole was one of approximately 200 people who came out to City Park Saturday evening for Kingston’s 15th annual AIDS Walk.

Saturday’s walk saw four times as many people participate than last year, which drew about 50 people.

Run by HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) Kingston, the walk kicked off at 6:30 p.m. at City Park and led participants along Beverly Street. The event culminated in a lantern festival and fire-dancing performance.

The money raised at the walk will go towards HARS, which directly supports people in the community living with HIV and AIDS.

Saturday’s walkers varied in age, race and sexual orientation, and included individuals who were infected as well as those who had little previous knowledge.

HARS Executive Director John MacTavish said he attributes the walk’s relatively low turnout in previous years to the many other fundraisers held yearly to raise money for their various causes.

“You have things like the Terry Fox Run and the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, which are both worthwhile causes,” he said. “The AIDS Walk tends to get lumped in with them as just another fundraiser.” In order to make the AIDS Walk more unique, HARS added a new component this year: a lantern festival.

“Attendance in the last three or four years has been up and down, so this year we’re trying to change the face of the walk with the lantern festival,” MacTavish said. “Awareness is already being created even as we set up, because people are interested in finding out what’s going on.”

HARS Education Co-ordinator Marney McDiarmid said the lantern festival allowed people to participate in the process of making art and in the community of people who fight against AIDS in Kingston.

“I came across the idea of a lantern festival when I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland,” she said. “I saw how, through art, people from the community were drawn together, and I wanted to bring that idea back here.” McDiarmid said the 400 lanterns illuminating the route were also a memorial to those who had lost their battle with AIDS and an inspiration for others to keep fighting.

“We had people who were able to make a lantern in memorial of someone they had lost. Light is about hope ... Looking at the stats is depressing, but there is still so much resilience. We have to continue to live and fight instead of giving up,” she said.

Kim McCrory, ArtSci ’10, said she’d been planning to attend the walk for a while because of her high school involvement in the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

“I thought it would be a great way to help the cause,” she said.

HARS executive board member Joseph Babcock said people in Canada don’t know enough about HIV/AIDS.

“People tend to think that AIDS is cured or over in North America,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation. It needs to be brought back to the media focus, and put in a public light ... We’re still dealing with phobias, to a certain degree.”

Jenna Rose, Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC) director, said she hopes teaching people about HIV/AIDS will help break down stigmas surrounding the disease.

“With education, we hope that there’s a decrease in AIDS-phobia and irrational fear surrounding the disease,” she said. “But because information about AIDS in Canada is not in your face people feel like they aren’t affected by it.”

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