Speakers stress positively impacting others at Candlelight memorialPOSTED: 05/30/11 12:07 PM
St. Maarten – “Over the years I have learned that HIV can devastate lives and friendships, but when you really do the checks and balances, HIV has brought so many more people together through support, love and human caring.” Those words near the beginning of Dr. Gerard van Osch’s key note address summarize the call that went forth from Sunday’s 28th International Candlelight Memorial at the Philipsburg Community and Cultural Center.
This year’s ceremony was themed Touching Lives and Van Osch took both a metaphorical and practical look at the impacts of the disease. He spoke of the fact that he’s watched people become more spiritual and watched them be forced to look at themselves and how they deal with challenges. He’s also noted that HIV has forced pharmaceutical companies to speed up research and introduce treatments much faster, how it has forced countries to improve healthcare delivery even in remote areas and to get people to think outside the box. The doctor and advocate has also watched as life expectancies have dropped, the gross domestic products of countries have been hit and how the disease grew into a worldwide pandemic that seemed unstoppable.
In the midst of his reflection Van Osch has found a singular hope and need for continued action.
“Newer treatments and continued prevention efforts have created hope that maybe we might be able to halt this disease. Not yet, but our kids or kids’ kids, might see the positive changes. As it stands now HIV/AIDS will be around for many more years and will continue to touch lives on a daily basis. Not only for those infected, but also their loved ones, partners, family members and friends. In fact HIV continues to affect us all,” Van Osch said.
With a litany of stories, some of which are continuing down positive tracks, and others that are not so happy, Van Osch spelt out how HIV has affected him personally and professionally. He summed them up as being “stories of challenges and survival.”
Of the memorial itself he said, “We are here to show that we understand HIV exists, and everyone living with it has a story to tell, but despite the hardships and challenges there are also a lot of positive things to celebrate, because once there is hope, love and support, we know there is a reason to live, even with HIV/AIDS.”
Earlier in the evening Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams issued a rallying call to the nation that now was the time for all who live in St. Maarten to come together around the issue of HIV and AIDS, which is among the national concerns.
“As a nation we need to show our own resolve. We have not yet won the war and we still have a long way to go. Together we can make a difference. It is time now to put our hands together,” the prime minister said.
The Health Minister had a litany of requests that included the audience remembering those who were not there, those too ill to attend and those who stayed away out of embarrassment. He also urged people to take personal responsibility even as they reached out to others.
“We sometimes depend on others. We depend on government at times. But the most important person to depend on is yourself – your personal responsibility. However I do not believe that we can be selfish or so self consumed that we forget how to touch people’s lives,” de Weever said.
He added, “When you leave here tonight, leave with a commitment to touch someone else’s life in a positive way by showing that we care.”
One of the evening’s main highlights was a performance by an ensemble cast of select scenes from the hit Broadway show Rent. Clifford Henry also performed a dance as part of the cultural arts contributions to the evening.
St. Maarten’s observance of the International AIDS Candlelight memorial is organized by HOPE, the support group of people living with HIV, the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation and the Program Management Team for HIV/AIDS led by Suzette Moses-Burton