Int. AIDS Candlelight Memorial – Wellington

The Candlelight Memorial in Wellington was another beautiful service – a fitting tribute to all the men and women who have lived and fought HIV and AIDS.

(Heather’s tribute – an excerpt from the Int. AIDS Candlelight Memorial in Wellington)

Held at the Tararua Tramping Club, men and women from within the community and outside attended, lighting candles and remembering brave and beautiful souls. Reverend Roger Pym opened the memorial by reminding everyone that the service stood as a mobilisation campaign to raise social consciousness about HIV and AIDS. Jane Bruning, the National Coordinator of Positive Women Inc, read out the message from the Governor General of New Zealand, Dame Patsy Reddy, which celebrated the progress made in treatment and care but reminded everyone that we cannot afford to be complacent in promoting safety and prevention.

More messages – from the Labour Party, the National Party and the Green Party – were read out, all of them highlighting the important milestones covered in countering HIV and the importance of remembering loved ones who have passed. The theme of ‘Reflecting on our past, Preparing for our future’ gave clear significance to the task before us, one of celebrating our achievements yet striving even harder to not let HIV and AIDS get the better of us. The Labour Party stressed on its commitment to help end all new HIV transmission by 2025 with a combination of safe sex, education, early and regular testing, and access to medicine. The party also acknowledged the need for an end to HIV related stigma.

After the reading of these thoughtful messages, Positive Speakers’ Bureau member Heather Sangster Smith spoke eloquently about female pioneers – lovers, mothers, wives – who looked after the men in their lives, the many men who were falling right at the height of the epidemic. Hers was a beautiful tribute and is available to hear above.

Heather was followed by Bruce Kilmister, the former CEO of Body Positive, who spoke about his experiences in the early days of the epidemic when discrimination and criminalisation were at their peak. He spoke about the many fights and struggles he and other gay men faced in establishing the homosexual law reform bill. He recalled that over 750 New Zealanders have died of AIDS or an AIDS related illness. His was a fitting remembrance for all those who paved the way for the many milestones now achieved in HIV treatment.

Gertrude Agbozo from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) spoke next about how 1.8 million people were affected by HIV worldwide in 2016 alone of which 244 belonged to New Zealand. She spoke of the 35 million souls lost since the beginning of the virus – a saddening statistic indeed. She spoke of developments that will soon lead to a drop in HIV infection rates.

Youth speaker Glacer Tormis came up next to share his thoughts on the importance of HIV testing and treatment. Karen Ritchie, who set up the Cartier Trust, then paid tribute to  Victor Taurewa Biddle who passed away last year.

Community support organisations came next, speaking about their roles in HIV education and support. Steve McVey spoke on behalf of Body Positive and Jane Bruning spoke about Positive Women Inc and the services it has provided for women since its inception in 1990. She acknowledged all the extraordinary women who have passed since the early days of HIV. She spoke about Tonya Booker, who died in 2014 of an AIDS related illness because she was not offered a HIV test. She stressed on the importance of routine HIV testing for women. Lee Eklund then spoke on behalf of the NZAF and the work all organisations do to de-stigmatise HIV.

The talks were all beautifully rounded off by the soulful Waiata Whiti ora ki te whei ao Khapahaka Group.