An open mind and a willingness to help were the order of the day last week, as Jenny Manley and her team from the Yarra Valley Water Customer Contact Centre spent the day making safe-sex packs and AIDS awareness ribbons for the Victorian AIDS Council.
In preparing for their annual Volunteer Day, Jenny and her team turned to Eastern Volunteers Project Officer Julie Tang to find a suitable activity for the group.
“Julie was very helpful in finding a suitable activity that would suit us,” said Jenny.
“When we heard that she was having trouble finding volunteers to help the Victorian AIDS Council with their safe sex packs, we knew that we could help them out.”
Over the course of the day, the group packed 6000 safe-sex packs and made 500 red ribbons – both aimed at raising awareness of the risks associated with the disease. The day was also an opportunity to learn more about AIDS and the work of the Victorian AIDS Council, with a presentation by the organisation’s Volunteer Coordinator Shane Kelly.
“We learnt about things that we were oblivious to…such as the fact that women with HIV can successfully give birth to-non-HIV affected babies, and that the advancement of HIV medical treatment means it is very rare for the virus to develop into full-blown AIDS these days.
“We were also surprised to learn of the funding difficulties experienced by the organisation, which means that there is a general lack of AIDS awareness programs targeted at the general population.”
As part of the day’s activities, Tracy Busse of Yarra Valley Water’s People & Culture division also shared her own personal experience with AIDS, following the death of Peter Busse, her brother-in-law, from the disease in 2006. Originally from South Africa, where an estimated 5.6 million people are living with AIDS, Tracy was keen to share Peter’s story.
After discovering in 1985 that he had contracted the disease, Peter spent the next 20 years as an AIDS activist, founding South Africa’s first AIDS support organisation, the Township AIDS Project (TAP).
“Although HIV/AIDS eventually took Peter’s life, it also took him on an amazing life journey and career! I don’t like the idea that bad things are “meant to happen” but I do think that sometimes tragedy or sadness can shape our lives in a positive way and create new possibilities. Peter was one of the most inspiring people I have ever known even when he knew that he was dying!
“I guess one of the key things that I want people to realise is that AIDS can happen to anyone…we are not immune,” Tracy said.
As a result of the Volunteer Day, Jenny believes that she and her team have developed a greater awareness of the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS.
“I think we’ve learned that there is nothing to be gained from making assumptions or judging others. I think we finished up the day with a new-found respect for those working for the Victorian Aids Council, their volunteers and those living with the disease.”