For the 2015 World AIDS Day GAAP teamed up with our longtime partners, the EMPOWER youth, to host a phenomenal youth event at the University of Toronto. EMPOWER, a project that trains diverse youth to become HIV educators in their own communities, is a collaboration between Queen West Community Health Centre and Gendering Adolescent AIDS Prevention (GAAP).
The World AIDS Day event was attended by a blend of UofT students and EMPOWER peer mentors who shared dinner, a workshop, and a variety of arts activities together. After enjoying a meal from Tasty Caribbean, Ola Skudlarska from the UofT Sexual Education Centre gave a presentation on the resources and services they offer on campus. Next, the attendees played a round of sexual education bingo which included questions on HIV transmission, safe sex, and where to access sexual health services in Toronto.
We then sat down in small groups to participate in a workshop given by EMPOWER mentors. Everyone had a chance to speak up and share what HIV/AIDS stigma meant to them. During the workshop, participants viewed some of the digital stories EMPOWER has produced and discussed what the stories can teach us about the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. The group then brainstormed ways they can counteract this stigma in their everyday lives.
Following the workshop, the group split up to engage in a variety of arts activities set up around the event space. At one end of the room, a photo booth had been set up with props where participants could make signs honouring World AIDS Day and have their photo taken with them. We also had an area set up to do magnetic poetry. Hundreds of slips of paper with various sexy words and phrases were spread out for participants to construct their own short poems. These were posted on large sheets of paper placed around the room. And, of course, we could not resist including an old (and delicious) favourite: sexy cupcakes! Participants had an array of toppings to choose from to decorate chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with sex positive depictions of vulvas, breasts, penises, and so on!
After exercising our creativity with these fun arts activities, we regrouped to enjoy a performance from EMPOWER’s own Rainbow, who led everyone in singing Michael Jackson’s ‘We are the World’ in memory of those who have passed away from AIDS.
All in all, this year’s youth World AIDS Day event was a great success. We had an incredible turn out of very engaged participants who learned a lot about HIV/AIDS by having frank conversations about sex through fun arts activities.