There was an opening and closing ceremony, thousands of people from all over the world attended, keynote speeches delivered from famous faces and decision makers under banners displaying giant logos of key corporates. Crowds of the public, young and old, took to the streets and exemplified what it means to come together and demonstrate support and create history. Throughout the fortnight, dreams were fulfilled; tears were shed and inspiration drawn from exceptional individuals who displayed courage, strength and determination to a worldwide audience.
This wasn’t the Olympics – this was the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC. But in the spirit of London 2012, I couldn’t help but draw a few comparisons to what we experienced there.
If I was to compare the conference to a sport, for me, it was definitely a run not a sprint – a marathon if you will!
We needed to pace ourselves, acclimatise to the 100 degree heat and adjust to our new environment – which to be honest, was pretty overwhelming. With over 23,767 participants, 17,000 delegates, 991 volunteers, 183 countries represented, 12433 abstracts submitted, 194 sessions, 60 workshops, 19 plenary speeches, 210 exhibits & 265 global village activities, it was a lot of digest. Not least because this was the first time Body & Soul had been given an NGO booth in the global village and with few UK HIV organisations present, we felt the pressure to represent.
However, we needn’t have worried – our ‘training’ served us well and the team were prepared for the days ahead. We made sure we got noticed the best way we could; creating an eye-grabbing booth bursting with colour and uplifting posters, quotes and creative activities which reflected our spirit for the conference – optimism, hope, energy, activism, strength, honesty and an open mind. We met people from all over the world, exchanged stories, shared examples of our programmes and compared and contrasted our respective challenges.
From the workshops and sessions, there was an overwhelming sense of determination and strength of character to move forward, combined with a unique opportunity to get a first-hand perspective of the world and the different challenges that HIV brings, be it HIV travel restrictions to Iraq or criminalisation in Canada.
Unsurprisingly, young people and stigma were popular topics on the agenda and were included in various key note speeches including one by UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway who we were lucky enough to meet. She advocated for the power of youth to change the face of the HIV epidemic, saying; ‘young people must be recognised and given space to lead the way. We need them and their experience. We need their capacity and insight – they use clear language, to connect the dots…they are ready to challenge the silence and the taboos.’
Challenging that silence is exactly what we are doing with LIMS and UNDEFEATED; driven by the strong values of Body & Soul which as it turns out, are not so dissimilar from those of the Olympics.
Pierre de Coubertin, the French educator known for reviving the Olympic games of the Modern era, developed these set of values that he believed should be applied to sport and to wider society in general.
These Values are:
1. Striving for Excellence – How to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
2. Demonstrating Respect- Preserve human dignity and fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
3. Celebrating friendship – Develop harmony, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences
Furthermore, there’s a set of Paralympic Values too, these are:
Every day we witness people affected by HIV living with courage and determination. Learning to live with a complex condition that is still puzzling the scientists. A condition which provokes prejudice and fear. Yet what the public don’t often get to see is the way in which this is carried out, with dignity, intelligence, strength and unwavering effort to replace ignorance with education in order to progress. They march for their basic human rights; for health care, for respect and for equality.
Every 2 years the spotlight is on this HIV community. Once the conference is over, we return to our respective corners of the globe, taking with us memories, learning, inspiration, new goals and dreams and a renewed incentive to keep going.
The conference and HIV community may not receive the international media coverage like the Olympics, but I believe they carry the values of olympism close to their heart and one step at a time, they are winning this marathon, and their gold medal is in sight.
Until then … keep training with Coubertin’s values in mind and remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint!