Many New Faces Inside and Outside the Conference Center

As I rode the train home on Monday, totally exhausted, I got into a conversation with a man and woman from Mexico. It’s not easy to take the train from Amsterdam RAI to your hotel in Bodegraven. You have to change trains in Duivendrecht and in Woerden. We rode together until Breukelen.

A Loving Home

These two people work for a shelter for children living with HIV. A “casa hogar” (I will translate this as a “home”). It means “home and hearth.” It is a home for children who have been orphaned or abandoned because of HIV. A home where they receive love and attention from the foster parents (the two people were quite adamant about this). Even if the kids can be a handful sometimes, they said, haha. Haha, yes, I have a child of my own... We had a laugh about Dutch food and how you can’t find spicy peppers anywhere. I recommended they look for a Surinamese restaurant. Let Madam Jeanet help them make it through the week in the Netherlands.

TV Broadcasts on Monday Evening

I was just in time to see Rob de Groot, Chris Lensen and Brenda Mugabona on Margriet, but I didn’t manage to see Jinek, so that had to wait till this morning — excellent interview with Princess Mabel and Anne Hamers about how women and girls are most at risk of HIV infection around the world.

Intensive Week

On Tuesday morning on my way to the RAI, I sat beside a colorfully dressed woman from Zimbabwe who had a poster presentation about PrEP for girls because most new infections occur among young women and girls ages 12 and up. Just like me, she was completely worn out from all the preparations and she was struggling with the heat. She confided in me that she would be going to Paris for a week after the conference and that she would not turn on her phone or computer at all. Her forehead was beaded with sweat when we parted ways.

Conversations and Interviews

I enjoy encounters like these. After that, there were all kinds of conversations today. With a Thai man who wants to know the trick to reaching so many different groups, a man from Belarus who could no longer get the website of his organization to load, a gay Nigerian activist who is looking forward to the Positive Prayer on Thursday and, look: if it isn’t the lady who already tried to smuggle a few goodie bags yesterday. I walk up to her and ask her in Spanish, one I realize she understands it, whether she’s going grocery shopping and whether she can pick up a half-liter of milk for me. She disappears...

Early in the afternoon, I also stopped by a Radio 1 studio in the exhibition hall where I had the opportunity to talk with Brenda Mugabona and Mark Vermeulen for fifteen minutes about living with HIV when suddenly a noisy demonstration of sex workers passed by (click here to listen to the interview). Doctor Peter Reiss was the guest on the radio after us, and we took some nice group pictures and complemented each other on all the projects we’re so busy with at the moment. Good work. (Note from the editors: This broadcast of De Nieuws BV also included an interview with Timothy Brown, the only person in the world to have been cured of HIV).
Lastly, I spent a half-hour in conversation with a journalist who writes for readers in the Caribbean region. We talked about stigma in the Netherlands, which is just as bad as in the Caribbean.

Don’t Miss the Stigma Experience

So, a very busy day which I wrapped up with a visit to the Stigma Experience hosted by hello gorgeous. A container is located right in front of the entrance to the conference with an intriguing message printed on the outside: Bye Bye Stigma! All weekend long, so many conference attendees have stopped in front of it to pose for a picture while the container was being remodeled, painted and set up. Today was the grand opening. I had a short interview first with Caspar (my favorite interviewer and writer), so that the actors involved had an idea of who they were dealing with. I was allowed into the container (yes, fortunately it is air-conditioned) and everything was so well set-up and well done that after my “stigma experience” I was so moved, I had tears in my eyes. Wow, what an impact. Maybe the impact is different for someone who does not have HIV, but it really struck a deep chord with me. So, if you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss it. I hope that many people who are not living with HIV themselves will also come here to experience the impact of being diagnosed and then facing a lot of negative reactions back to back.

Reina Foppen
Community Network staff member

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