It started with one and has grown to over 800 a year — red scarves tied around Oshawa’s downtown.
World AIDS Day is coming up Dec. 1, and the AIDS Committee of Durham Region (ACDR) is once again trying to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. They are also trying to end the stigma surrounding the illness.
“I think a lot of people still have a lot of fear and uneasiness about HIV because they don’t really understand what it’s like now,” said Katie Namek, ACDR promotions and community development manager.
“No one wanted to get HIV and no ones done anything wrong to get HIV, and subsequently no one should be punished for it,” said Adrian Betts, ACDR executive director.
Betts, who lives with HIV, has been helping with this initiative since it started six years ago. It’s a cause near and dear to his heart.
All of the scarves used in the project are handmade by members of the community. The scarves are not just symbolic, they are an actual source of information, tied up across the downtown core ahead of World AIDS Day to help inform area residents about how the illness has changed over the years.
They are also for people to take, if they need to keep warm, Namek said, with a hope that they will take the information to heart.
“And share the message that they find on it, this new information about HIV, where to get tested, what to know about treatment now, who’s at risk in our community and also that it’s not a life sentence anymore,” said Namek.
Over 40 people took part in tying scarves during this year’s Red Scarf Project.
The red scarf is an offshoot of the well-known international “red ribbon” awareness campaign that began in the 80’s.
“The number of people connected to this is part of what makes this so enjoyable to be apart of,” said Brian Reusch Serapio with ACDR volunteer engagement.
“If we take care of people who are living with HIV and we make sure they have access to medication that they cannot spread the virus. In the absence of a cure this is hopefully how we can end HIV/AIDS in our lifetime.”
The AIDS Committee of Durham Region serves 550 men, women and children living with HIV.
The Red Scarf Project is expanding to Whitby this year and the hope is to have it eventually spread cross the entire region.