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What We Can Do: Innovative World AIDS Day Activities

December 1, 1998


Many people think AIDS does not affect them. But if they do not already know someone infected with HIV, chances are that they will soon.

Approximately 650,000 to 900,000 Americans are infected with HIV -- about one in every 300 to 400 people. And each year, approximately 40,000 more become infected with HIV. Every American can get involved in the fight to prevent HIV infection.

World AIDS Day is a group effort, although individuals can make a difference, too. Below you will find descriptions of actual events and activities that occurred in communities across the United States and its territories over the past several years. As you can see, local efforts are gaining broader participation and becoming more diverse.

Following these accounts you will find suggested activities in observance of World AIDS Day for your own community. We urge that you not only coordinate an awareness effort in your area, but that you also make HIV/AIDS prevention a part of your every day by continuing your efforts throughout the year.

A Sampling of Recent World AIDS Day Activities

In San Francisco, California, in 1997, a local organization, the AIDS Emergency Fund, sponsored its "Every Penny Counts" campaign, which lasted through November and ended on World AIDS Day. Volunteers placed collection jars in 41 local schools and various businesses across the San Francisco Bay Area to collect pennies and loose change. More than 37,000 students and hundreds of area residents participated in the campaign raising more than $81,000. The donations collected by the AIDS Emergency Fund went to assist people affected and disabled by HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco area.

In Tallahassee, Florida, in 1997, the Department of Health held an all-day event at the Florida Capitol Building to commemorate World AIDS Day. Speakers included the Governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles, Craig Reynolds from People With AIDS (PWA), and Georgia Foster, who runs state-wide day-care centers for children with AIDS. The Capitol was decorated for the occasion with 6-foot red ribbons and numerous drawings made by Florida Girl Scouts addressing various HIV and AIDS topics.

In Vandalia, Illinois, in 1997, an inmate at the Vandalia Correctional Center celebrated World AIDS Day by displaying posters around the center, showing HIV-related movies to inmates throughout the day, dedicating the entire December 1 issue of the inmate newspaper to HIV/AIDS-related information and encouraging all staff members to wear red ribbons for the day.

In Bonanza, Nevada, in 1997, the chapter of the National Honor Society at Bonanza High School established AIDS Awareness Week starting on December 1. The students arranged to have a section of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt displayed, set up school-wide information booths, showed HIV/AIDS-related movies to students at lunch, sold red ribbons to raise money for Aid For AIDS Nevada (AFAN), and made sure a number of AIDS resources were available in their school library.

In honor of World AIDS Day 1997, President Clinton issued directives to all federal agencies to incorporate youth-focused HIV/AIDS information into any program that targeted young Americans. In addition, the White House displayed white candles in all of the residence windows in recognition of World AIDS Day.
In Grand Gorge, New York, in 1997, the students at the Northern Catskills Occupational Center sponsored a variety of activities on December 1. Every group at the center found a unique way to commemorate World AIDS Day and raise AIDS awareness: 75% of all proceeds from the Spa on December 1 were donated; carpentry students built shelves and donated tools; Equipment Operations and High School for Alternative Learning students sold baked goods, maple syrup, homemade greeting cards and Christmas ornaments; and several students from Integrated Services sponsored fingerprint-ing and blood pressure screenings. The students' creative and collective efforts allowed them to raise $765.25 for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR).

In Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1997, 350 students, faculty, and staff from University of North Carolina at Wilmington gathered on campus, dressed in red, and formed a human AIDS ribbon, raising the level of local awareness concerning AIDS issues. The organizers also supported a toy and food drive to help children in the Wilmington area who are affected by HIV/AIDS. Their efforts were recognized by both local and state-wide newspapers.

In Mattawan, Michigan, in 1997, a teacher at Mattawan Middle School organized the ADD Campaign (AIDS Dedicated Discussion) for her 6th-8th grade students. After completing a unit on AIDS, the students developed information sheets to take home and used them to educate and talk openly with their parents about HIV and AIDS issues.

The Virginia Department of Health, in 1997, coordinated a large, state-wide effort to recognize World AIDS Day, involving more than 38 Virginia-based non-profit and faith community organizations, as well as local health departments. These various organizations sponsored candlelight walks and memorial services; NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt panel showings throughout the state; wide-spread ribbon distribution; and musical performances and educational seminars for all age groups. In addition to offering programs, the Department of Health also distributed HIV/AIDS Fact Sheets and pens promoting the Virginia STD/AIDS hotline across the state.

In Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1997, students and faculty at Fairfield High School held a two-day long observance of World AIDS Day. Activities involving the students, teachers, and the local community began with a candlelight vigil, which featured speakers, musicians and skit performances all focused on HIV/AIDS-related issues. The entire day of December 1 was set aside for AIDS awareness and education. The school was decorated in hundreds of red ribbons, TAP (Teen AIDS Prevention) Peer Educators visited classrooms doing role-playing skits and involving the students in AIDS discussions. A school-wide contest to sew squares to be submitted to the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was initiated. The students also announced that a joint effort between Fairfield High School and students at Central High School (a nearby urban school) to design and paint a mural, depicting the reality that AIDS has become for both suburban and urban youths, had begun.

"The taboos which permeate our society have made me unable to include certain vital information in peer education presentations. Sex and condoms are almost synonymous with AIDS education, but in many of the schools, these topics are off limits, because the beliefs of parents, teachers or school administrators center on one word: abstinence."
-- An 18-year-old young woman from Morgantown, West Virginia
In Sarasota, Florida, in 1996, more than 1,000 Floridians -- children, teens, college students and adults -- participated in activities including an HIV Awareness Service, an interactive HIV/AIDS education program for middle school students at the Ringling Museum, a Teen Theater performance for parents and children, a community college HIV awareness workshop, an AIDS walk, a candlelight vigil, an uncensored art show, and free, anonymous HIV counseling and testing.

In Phoenix, Arizona, in 1996, 2400 students and 200 faculty and staff at a high school participated in HIV/AIDS Education Week, which included plays, videos, information booths, assembly speakers and numerous posters throughout the school citing diverse and dramatic statistics about AIDS.

In Stockton, California, in 1996, live Christmas trees decorated with red lights, red ribbons and white tags with the names of county residents who had died of AIDS written on them were the centerpiece for the AIDS Walk San Joaquin. Extensive media coverage reached many in the area. The walk had 120 participants, including area teenagers.

In Lexington, Kentucky, in 1996, the Lexington Thoroughblades hockey team highlighted World AIDS Day awareness at Rupp Arena to a crowd of nearly 15,000 through a number of methods: a printed supplement in the game program; public service announcements throughout the game; the wearing red ribbons by all team members, coaches, ushers and arena employees; and the strategic placement of posters and information booths in the arena area.

In Puerto Rico in 1995, the Department of Health, in conjunction with several beeper companies, left the number for its HIV hotline on the beepers of the companies' customers. When the individuals called the number they were notified it was World AIDS Day and they could obtain facts on HIV/AIDS from that phone number.

In Portland, Maine, in 1993, a teacher at Lincoln Middle School passed out 15 strips of paper to each student. Students were to write down the names of three family members, three friends and three objects that were important to them, three goals they wanted to accomplish in their lives, and three dreams they saw themselves fulfilling, creating five piles. The students were then told they hypothetically were HIV positive and had to give up one thing from each pile. The lesson continued with discussions about HIV/AIDS. Finally, the teacher told her students that she was the virus, then walked around the room randomly removing one thing from each of their piles. Throughout the lesson, students were required to write about their emotions and how HIV/AIDS changed their lives. The students then combined their experiences and the HIV/AIDS information they had learned to create informational brochures.

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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication Be a Force for Change.
See Also
World AIDS Day Planning