Writing this blog post is bittersweet. My partner and I will be moving to Glasgow, Scotland, and as such I am leaving my position at ARCH (HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health – formerly the AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County). I am excited about the amazing adventure ahead, but saying goodbye is not easy.
I started volunteering at ARCH more than 5 years ago, and not long after was hired as the Positive Prevention Coordinator. I worked at a number of nonprofit organizations before coming here but never quite felt as though I’d found the right fit - until I got this job and everything fell into place. I’d been studying and volunteering in the HIV/AIDS sector for quite some time, but actually working in this sector seemed like a dream.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this field so appealing, when it surrounds so much suffering. AIDS is something most people want to avoid thinking about, let alone immersing themselves in… but it is also the source for so much inspiring leadership, resilience, activism – and actually a lot of humour and laughter too. It is also driven by anger and indignation, but these become the impetus for change, which becomes the reason for hope.
I have learned a lot from the members of this community, locally, as well as provincially – from other workers, volunteers, bloggers and activists. Most of all though, I have been inspired by the people who have, as we say, “lived experience” – people living with HIV, Hepatitis C, or with experiences of addiction, homelessness, or sex work. People who have been through, well, a lot of crap in their lives, and find a way to make it meaningful by turning it into positive change. Seeing people do this, over and over again, has taught me something about the human spirit, our drive to carry on, our need to help others, and our perpetual hope for a better future. Nothing has been more fulfilling than seeing this in action and getting to be a part of it in some small way.
One of the challenges I first encountered in this job, while doing front line work, was realizing that people often cycle through difficult periods in their life; that depression, addiction, and trauma may take breaks, but often return. Concluding that my work is still meaningful and valuable even if the impact I make is small, or perhaps fleeting, made all the difference in my approach to my work and my expectations.
When I was in my mid-20s, I dreamed of creating change. I wanted to create or be a part of organizations and movements that could create significant, sweeping positive changes in the world. That was unrealistic and characteristic of youthful naivety. But rather than being disappointed, I feel very satisfied, having come to the realization that smaller-scale and more locally-directed change can often be swifter, more sustainable, and have a more direct impact on the people we are attempting to serve. This isn’t to say that we should give up efforts to challenge broader and more systemic forms of oppression, but I have a much greater appreciation for community-based, localized, and small scale change than I used to.
One of the amazing things about working in this fantastic community is feeling connected to so many other caring people – community service providers, peers, students, local activists, even local politicians and members of the police force. One of the things that first inspired me when I got involved in the HIV field, as a volunteer and as a grad student, was the way in which it brought together people from diverse backgrounds and orientations – including players you wouldn’t always imagine would have similar interests or goals – to work creatively and collaboratively.
Our community in Guelph contains countless people, who are absolutely committed to eliminating poverty, providing accessible and trauma-informed services and harm reduction, and ending violence. The frustration or grief I’ve experienced – which inevitably comes in this field as we try to address stubborn and complex systemic issues and ideologies – has been tempered by feeling as though I’ve been part of a collective of individuals who are devoting their lives to making meaningful, positive change.
I would like to sincerely thank all of the wonderful people I’ve worked with at ARCH and in the community, including ARCH colleagues, clients, volunteers and peers – for sharing your stories, for working as hard as you do, for helping me personally learn and grow, and for fighting the good fight. Stay optimistic and be assured that you are changing lives; you’ve most certainly changed mine.
Megan will be off for a little while but has promised she will resume writing for PositiveLite.com once she is settled in Scotland.