Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS day

Monday, 1 December 2008
Alison Elliot
Prayer for the Day. BBC Radio 4.

One of my favourite photographs is of a bright four-year-old girl from South Africa, with big red ribbons in her hair, giving a side-ways smile for the camera. Earlier in the day, we'd met her and her friends from nursery, listened to them singing the South African national anthem, with their arms folded against their hearts, and we'd played with them on the kinds of trundle toys loved by toddlers everywhere.

The nursery was run by a remarkable woman, who was living in a caravan so that the children could be looked after. They were special children because they were living with HIV. They were lucky. Many of them were already taking anti-retroviral drugs. But in their young lives they were already victims of the myth and stigma that perpetuate this illness. One soulful three-year-old had been through the unbelievable trauma of the trial of the man who had infected her, in the belief that having sex with a virgin would protect him from the virus.

Respect and Protect is the theme of World Aids Day, marked again today, twenty years on from its start. Striking the right balance between these two ideas is important. We often feel most protective when we see images of helplessness and victimhood. Yet people who are living with HIV increasingly want to be portrayed differently. They're open about their condition and making a good contribution to the lives of others. Some might play on the fact that they are HIV positive, like the photograph "Positive Faces" in the National Portrait Gallery - an array of sixteen cheerful people, grinning, winking, laughing - nurses, children, old men, all of them living positively with the virus.

Lord of abundant living, cast your protective arm round the people we stigmatise that their contribution to a wholesome society may be openly acknowledged by everyone. Amen

For a moving first hand account read here