World AIDS Day a time to reflect and remember

Turn back the clock 18 years and HIV was a death sentence, not just in a physical sense, but from love and companionship as well.

Many of the 25 people who gathered at ASK Wellness Centre on Saturday Afternoon to celebrate World AIDS Day have worked hard to change the way the community views people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Now HIV is no longer a guaranteed death sentence for those who are afflicted, and the disease doesn't come with the same social stigma, said Bob Hughes, executive director of ASK.

But Hughes said there are still some communities, specifically First Nations bands, where the disease is viewed as a black mark, and people are afraid to seek help because of it.

"What we find is that it's aboriginal women that are most impacted," said Hughes.

Charlotte Daniels was one of those First Nations women when she arrived in Kamloops three years ago.

She was diagnosed HIV positive while incarcerated at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre. Homeless and alone, Daniels turned to ASK Wellness for help, and she found it, she said.

With the help of ASK, Daniels found a place to live and was able to get off the street and out of the sex trade. Through diet, nutrition and other supplements, she's been able to keep her HIV under control, she said.

She volunteers with ASK and lectures on the social stigma that comes with being aboriginal and HIV positive.

"World AIDS Day, to me, is a big day because I live with HIV," she said.

Without the support and compassion she received from Hughes and his staff, there's a chance Daniels might not be alive today, she said.

"I am able to persevere."

Daniels provided an opening prayer at the ASK World AIDS Day service and helped Kamloops Immigrant Services executive director Paul Lagace perform a smudge for the building and guests.

Lagace and Cookie Reimer helped launch the AIDS Society of Kamloops during the 1990s. Reimer said she's lost 113 friends to HIV/AIDS, and thinks of them often on World AIDS Day.

"I never want people to become complacent about this disease," she said.

The event ended with a candlelight vigil.

World AIDS Day is held every Dec. 1 and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for men, women and children living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died.

The first World AIDS Day event was held in 1988.

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