First, let me introduce myself. My name’s Jen Searight and I’ve been the Food Bank Coordinator at ASA for just over 2 years. Next week is my last week here. It was a tough decision, but I’m leaving my role here to travel around the world. I’ve been researching my trip for quite a while and recently turned my attention to CDC recommendations for vaccinations. Travel inoculations are nothing new, but as I perused the CDC pages for country-by-country information, I was struck by the travel restrictions that exist for people living with HIV and AIDS.
It’s 2017. When it comes to safety and travel, there are a long list of concerns that a traveler has to consider. Indeed, foreign policy and national security are not just governmental concerns; decisions made have ramifications in individuals’ lives. HIV-related travel restrictions do not often make headlines, but these deserve our attention. According to a United Nations report from 2009, these strictures lack “…connection to some rational purpose in terms of an effective global or national response to the HIV epidemic, nor have they been clearly justified in terms of their being necessary or effective in protecting public health or the public purse.” If the UNAIDS is willing to take a stand against these, the UN’s member states should be willing to revisit their policies.
The United Nations currently recognizes 193 entities. These sovereign nations are at liberty to develop their own policy regarding entry and exit, visas, refugees, etc. These countries are also at liberty to enforce travel restrictions for people living with HIV. Fortunately, most member states do not. Our own United States of America only rescinded our HIV-related travel restrictions in 2010. Before January 4, 2010, non-U.S. citizens who were HIV-positive could not be admitted to the United States unless granted a waiver by the Department of Homeland Security. President George W. Bush’s changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act were a quiet leap forward in equality.
Internationally, there is no doubt that work needs to be done. According to AIDSmap.com‘s Travel Restrictions page, “a number of countries restrict entry for people with HIV. This means that foreigners with HIV may be refused entry, denied permission to work or settle, or even be deported.” For my trip, I’ll need to carry proof of my yellow fever inoculation. And if I was going to Taiwan for more than 3 months, according to Plus magazine, I’d be required to take an HIV test and would face deportation for a positive result.
UNAIDS tracks travel restrictions, but changing political climates mean that planning a trip will require intensive research on a country-by-country basis. Most countries do not advertise their HIV-related travel restrictions openly. Even cursory research does not yield conclusive results in many cases. Still, this is not all bad news. Check out this UNAIDS’ infographic. Prepared in 2015, it’s slightly out-of-date–more and more countries are doing away with their restrictions. While progress is slow, if current trends continue, HIV-related travel restrictions are on their way out. And if you ask this traveler, it’s about time.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for ASA by Mokshika Sharma, Full Fridge, Inc.
Everyone deserves access to nutritious food, just as everyone deserves access to health resources. Our mission at Full Fridge is to help with both, and this is how.
Do good, and the rest will follow
Our relationship with ASA started around 2 years ago. [ASA] invited one of my partners and I to help out with the Dining out for Life website. Prior to us to helping out, we had no knowledge of this organization and all the good that it did for the community. Collaborating and helping with “Dining out of Life” for the past two years has given us a glimpse into an organization that at its core has the same values our entire team has. We both believe in access to the basics. On the surface, ASA provides a support system and tools for people affected by HIV and AIDS. However, these past few years we have learned that they provide so much more for the greater Austin area. They provide sex education, mental health support, and nutrition programs. This Thanksgiving we want to support ASA because they have supported Austin for years. We truly believe that everyone deserves the chance to a better health, and we hope that our partnership with ASA this week will help us get one step closer to that goal.
Dining in for life
This year, Full Fridge is partnering with ASA to offer “Dining in for life”. The company will donate 10% from all the sales from November 20th through November 27th, to ASA. So, this year, my team and I are thankful for ASA and this opportunity to collaborate. Visit www.fullfridge.com for more details.
More about Full Fridge and its Mission
The “American Dream”
My team and I all come from different parts of the world: India, Venezuela, Russia, Austria. All our cultures experienced (or continue to experience) times where access to food and health care is not easy. Coming to America meant something different for all of us, but we all knew that if there was a place where we could make a difference and prove our talents it was here. And while our talents range from engineering to hospitality, all of us share a passion that again, is embedded in our cultures and families: food.
Access to real food
“Food is medicine,” a statement that while true, it is not the reality for 70% of the world population. If we just look at home, at the current pace, 50% of all adults in America will be obese by 2030, according to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. What can be done about this statistic? The main factor for many families boils down to the growing hecticness of life which borrows more and more time away from things that require our attention. “I’m tired from a long day and I don’t have time to grocery shop, cook, and clean. I just want food that is quick, cheap without any hassle.” Another statement that is becoming more and more common in America. For most, the solutions involve either spending too much money to eat proper food, which is not an option everybody has, or resorting to fast food and frozen T.V. dinners. We started Full Fridge 5 months ago as a way of answering the question “can we bring delicious, convenient, affordable, and nutritious food to everyone?”. The answer so far “yes”.
Submitted by Nori Hubert
I volunteered to take photographs of the 2016 AIDS Walk and festival for ASA’s website. This year, the festival was based in Palm Park, with the Walk route heading up Brazos Street across East Sixth, up Congress Avenue, looping around the Capital Building and back. Even though it was blistering hot out for an October Sunday (but hey, it’s Texas) it was a very rewarding and fun experience to take photos, chat with walkers, vendors, ASA staff and volunteers, and pet all the dogs. The Mobile Testing Van was in attendance, as were rockin’ community partners such as Walgreens, Planned Parenthood, Pink & Silver Fashion, and Texas Chili Queens (side note: try the vegan chili). Austin Prime Timers led the Walk as the top fundraising organization. Senator Lloyd Doggett eloquently delivered the kick-off address. And, in true Austin fashion, there was plenty of live music to keep the spirits high. There was also a Ribbon Memory Tree in the middle of the park, where folks could tie sparkling tulle ribbons in red, white, or silver to honor loved ones, and chalkboard where participants could write their reasons for walking.
I wrote: “For survivors, like me.”
I came very close to a positive diagnosis when I was eighteen years old. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to escape a three-year period of sexual abuse free of disease, especially since at that time I had no access to quality sexual health care. I was so afraid coming out of that, it took me another three years before I worked up the courage to get tested. I know I am lucky – I am old enough to remember the AIDS crisis of the early 1990s, when there were still images on TV and in the newspapers of dying people. It could have been me. Every day, I express gratitude that all my tests came back negative.
But I am still afraid. Not for myself, because now I am empowered and in control of my health, but because so many people even just a few years younger than myself don’t realize that AIDS is not a thing of the past. We have come so very far in prevention, treatment, and life expectancy since that fateful summer in 1981, but 15,000 new infections occur in the United States alone each year (last year, there were 300 new cases in Austin) in young people age 15-25, with queer youth and youth of color at highest risk.
That’s why I am proud to contribute time to and organization like AIDS Services of Austin – it is an honor and privilege to be a small part of work that literally saves lives.
I saw the Prime Timers carry the AIDS Walk banner high. I saw multiple groups and individuals in the crowd with signs and banners baring photos of friends and family claimed by the virus. I saw too many ribbons tired to the Memory Tree and In Loving Memory Of’s written on the chalkboard. One walker wore a handmade shirt that read “32 Years Positive, Still Very Strong.” Senator Lloyd Doggett gave a moving speech urging each of us to fight for our health with our vote.
I am afraid for my community. But I am also proud: we have survived (and thrived) despite this disease and the stigma that comes with it. I am proud to walk beside so many courageous people because we are walking in the footsteps of those who have walked on from here – and forging the trail for those who come after. The media badge is just a perk!
AIDS Walk Austin 2016 will be Becky Helton’s 28th year in a row to participate in the walk and…. she has each years’ shirts to prove it!
Becky was motivated to get involved with the first walk in 1988 as she was friends with Glenn Maxey, legislative aide. “If you knew Glenn Maxey, you did the Walk”. Maxey first became involved when a state legislator tried to pass a proposal to quarantine all AIDS patients. Maxey helped organize and defeat that proposal and in 1988 he became the first executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby (now Equality Texas). Becky knew she would be in for the long haul with Glenn’s urging and after reading a local article that really affected her. ““I didn’t know anyone personally who had AIDS, but I hated that people were getting sick and not getting help. There was so much stigma attached to the disease. People were being ostracized; I remember an article appeared locally that really affected me, about a woman working for the City who fell ill and was diagnosed with AIDS. When she returned to work, she found that her desk had been segregated from her co-workers. Back then, even fundraising for AIDS relief was stigmatized by the public.”
As this was in the early, pre-internet years, Becky prepared for the Walk by writing fundraising letters to friends at work and at her church. “People say it is hard to ask for money, but the way I see it, I’m not asking for me, I’m asking for people I love who are HIV+.” Nowadays, 28 years later, Becky’s friends know she will be asking them regularly to donate to the mission of AIDS services of Austin and they never fail to give. “If there were no ASA, where would the AIDS crisis be today in our community? How much worse? We are currently seeing a surge in the infection rate among young people, so we need to do even more—so that in another 28 years we are not still doing this. I don’t want to be doing the Walk in my eighties, although I will if the need is still there.”
We look forward to seeing Becky at the Walk on October 16th this year at Palm Park. “Make the world better, and you are part of it. I just want the world to be better, and I want that more than a new dress.”
Meet Cambriae Bates, our new Events Coordinator. She will be handling AIDS Walk Austin as one of her first assignments. We are glad to have her.
“When I was nineteen, I went to a tattoo shop and told the artist that I wanted him to draw an image of a doll parachuting on my back and in the strings I wanted the words, “To live would be an awfully big adventure.” If there is one thing important that everyone should know about me it is that I am an enthusiast of life.
“People always ask me why the HIV and AIDS community when I could be helping out with so many other causes. I always give two reasons. 1) I find happiness in knowing that organizations like ASA help people to live full and vibrant lives. 2) For ten years my aunt had a partner that tested positive for HIV and when she first introduced her to my family I felt everyone in the room cringe. As a curious child, I started doing my own research about HIV and I found out that my family’s behavior was unwarranted. Eventually, they found out facts, erased some of the myths that exist, and realized that my aunt’s partner was not a danger to any of us. As a family, we even created a short film about HIV/AIDS to help build awareness in the Philadelphia community. From then on, I developed a desire to reduce the stigma that surrounds the HIV/AIDS community.
“About seven months ago, my boyfriend and I decided to relocate from Philadelphia because we wanted to embark on a new adventure. Having worked as a development intern at Action Wellness in Philadelphia, I was excited to find the Special Events position on the ASA development team because it gave me a chance to return to the HIV/AIDS services field and I was hired about a week before our move date. I love events because the role gives me the chance to interact with the communities that I serve and there is a lot of creativity that I can implement while planning an event. My hope is that I will be able to truly become an Austinite, add a little extra weirdness to the city, and help the individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS in central Texas to live lives free of stigma and full of joy.
“The first event that I will be working on is the 2016 AIDS Walk that will be held at Palm Park on Sunday, October 16. This year we will have live music acts, food trucks, activities for the whole family and more. Registration is open at aidswalkaustin.org. I am a very easy going person, so if you have any questions about the event give me a call!”
“It is interesting how something so simple could change my life completely.” says Terri Lindgren who works the front desk at AIDS Services home office on Cameron Road.
Terri is the first person most see when they come to the ASA Home office on Cameron Road. She describes her role as “sort of a triage/screener/traffic director. ASA offers so many different services I need to know at least some of what each department does, who does it, and where to send a client. A lot can happen at the front desk and it is usually fast and furious.”
We sat down to chat with her about her time at ASA.
In 1992, my son’s high school art teacher suggested her students be involved in AIDS Walk. I was the Mom who drove the kids to the walk. I fell for the love and spirit of the other walk attendees and felt I had to get involved.
It is interesting how something so simple could change my life completely. I started to volunteer for HIV or related issues. That continued for 17 years until I began working for ASA in March of 2010 full time.
Emotions run full spectrum. Often, when people newly diagnosed, they are terrified. We help them. Some clients come in to the agency in very bad condition (mentally or medically). When I see them improve through our services, it raises my spirits. I have attended funerals of clients whose families abandoned them and ASA staff are the only ones there to tell them goodbye.
Clients often come in under a great amount of stress. They wouldn’t be here if they were in good shape. They receive the support they need. It is a beautiful thing to see them graduate from school, find work or housing, break free of a drug habit, or get control of their health. They walk in with their head held high for the first time in years.
Seeing the success of our clients! Over the past 6 years I have been blessed to see many. It is wonderful to be work at a place that can help impact people in such a positive way. To play a small role in that is an honor.
On the case management side we enable people to become independent again, which is such a major role and long term cost savings for the city. Our prevention team is just phenomenal, hours of dedication are put in to help stop the spread of the disease, coming up with strategies to reach all the different cultures in Austin. Capital Area AIDS Legal Project assisting clients with a variety of legal matters. The work we we do here is of huge benefit to Austin, not just our clients.
Terri is often the first face of ASA that clients new and old see. We are fortunate to have her.
Do you have a story you would like to tell about ASA or your expernce with the HIV community? Send it to me! firstname.lastname@example.org