Written by: Londiwe Dube, PR Intern
This year we celebrated the continuity of life with the theme “Shining the light on our future”. This year’s 33rd annual Candlelight was celebrated on the 18th of May 2016 with the students and staff of DUT.
This year we celebrated the Candlelight Memorial event with a bit of a twist. Unlike the years before, there was no mourning, no crying or feeling sorry for ourselves. We do not deny that most people have lost loved ones to HIV, but with the many gains South Africa has made with HIV many people are living longer. We wanted to change the mood and remind young people that an HIV diagnosis is not the end, just a detour. It is then up to the person to make their future what they want it to be.
While for some people HIV has become a chronic disease, many others still lack access to correct information, treatment and support. What is even concerning is that most people still experience HIV-related stigma, discrimination and human rights violations on a daily basis. This is what we wanted to change. We wanted to remind everyone, whether infected or affected, that with education and a positive attitude they could do not anything they put their minds to. Most importantly, the event was about challenging our own myths and perceptions about people we viewed as different.
The speakers of the day touched on the relevant issues that were affecting the youth of today. Among the speakers, were members of civil society, a former DUT student who living with HIV and also the SRC leadership. The speakers were mostly young people who had positive stories and words to share with their peers. It was also refreshing way of communicating with young people who are often “tired of hearing about HIV”. On the day it was also highlighted that gender-based violence, alcohol/drug abuse and inconsistent condom use were some of the reasons that HIV infections were rising among young people.
It was interesting to engage with some of the young people who attended the event. When asking students about the day and what was their highlight of the day they said:
“Knowing my status was my highlight” Sanele*, 21 years. (Undergrad)
“Well that abstaining is still in fashion was a highlight, lol!” Zukiswa*, 20 years. (Undergrad)
“The MC Radio Gee did it for me!” Andile*, 19 years. (Undergrad)
“Not only was it informative, it was also very entertaining.” Zama*, 26 years (Postgrad)
As we plan for Candlelight 2017, we are encouraged by the shifts in perceptions among the young people. The HIV/AIDS Centre continues to find innovative ways to engage young people on sexual reproductive and health rights. We are also hopeful that our students will continue to demonstrate leadership in these matters.