Seeing Beyond What We Want to See…

15 06 2010

The following is one of my journal entries for the HIV/AIDS Care & Prevention course I am taking at UBC (IHHS 402).  It is the best course I have ever taken at UBC and I am thankful that I get to end my UBC journey with it.

I wanted to post it because I find it demonstrates the power of opening oneself up to seeing beyond what we want to see, and how that makes all the difference in the world…

“Thinking about my journal entry last week, I realized that the course seemed to focus on the negative because I chose to focus on the negative. A classmate told me that she looked at the course as unveiling knowledge of the pertinent issues surrounding HIV/AIDS so that we as a collective can work on improving the situation. Rather than looking at it as depressing, she chooses to look at the course as empowering, and she is right. We need to know what stigma is and what the current situation is in the Downtown Eastside and for other vulnerable communities so that we can work to make it better. That is what this course is about: empowerment.

It is funny how deciding to change one’s perspective changes everything.

This second week has opened my eyes to the optimism of the current situation regarding HIV/AIDS. Mark Tyndall joked about no longer needing this course in 2030, and I can finally understand why he would say that. It is because there is hope.

The Dr. Peters Centre showed me what all support centres strive towards. It is truly holistic patient- (or participant-) centred care, with harm reduction, non-judgmental therapy options (like acupuncture, music therapy, and spas), and free healthy meals. I was shocked when Ellie, the dietician, told us that one of the prerequisites for becoming a participant is being HIV+. I was shocked because nothing at the centre reminded me of HIV and I had forgotten. The Dr. Peters Centre simply strives to provide the comforts of home to participants, and the participants are simply striving to live their lives to the best of their ability. The centre is a model residence, and the only issue is that it is too small.

When I visited the Lion Hotel and received a tour of the Downtown Eastside by the Tenant Support Worker that was working there as part of Lookout, I was struck by what a fantastic community the Downtown Eastside (DTES) actually is. I passed by so many of the buildings on Hastings, etc. before, without daring or caring to look inside of them. When I finally stopped to take a look on Thursday, I found Francisca Sisters passing out hundreds of free hot and generous lunches to people in need. The Living Room making delicious pasta salads for dinnertime in their pink kitchen, and providing activities for members, including karaoke, trips to the Museum of Anthropology, and swimming. As my talented tour guide expressed, food is not the issue in the DTES. In fact, community is not the issue in the DTES, either. I saw so many residences full of life and people just getting on with their lives. At the Lion Hotel, the landlord was building an interactive social area complete with a television so that the tenants could have a place to gather and build a sense of community and ownership. Everyone in the DTES cares about each other, and I am so proud of that community and to be part of it in some small way.

It was interesting to learn about the Woodward (a whole block of buildings being developed at Hastings & Abbott, kiddy corner to Victory Square), and how it is an experiment with $1.1-million condos built directly next to social housing for lower income individuals (aka the previously homeless), complete with an SFU campus site. I think that experiments like this is the beginning of the destruction of stigma and segregation, but only if done carefully.

There is tangible hope that the HIV virus can be stopped if we can stop it from manifesting as a social and political illness. And I personally believe there is hope that the underlying causes – prohibition, institutionalized homophobia, lack of support for the Aboriginal population, stigma, etc. – are changing for the better. One day at a time, but it is progress.

And that is what this course is about: the progress that all of us can help make in this world with the proper awareness that this course provides.”

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