The Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society (SGIAS) is a registered, non-profit society that was created in 2001 to assist Gulf Islands residents living with issues related to HIV/AIDS. The roots of the organization go back to 1993 when the first local support group formed. Over the years the core members of the support group partnered with various allies and organizations to undertake fundraising and outreach projects. When the scope of these events warranted, the Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society was established to help facilitate these efforts.
Living in a rural community can pose unique challenges for people living with HIV/AIDS. Geographic and travel barriers can hinder access to specialized services which are usually clustered in urban centres. Lingering societal stigma can discourage people from seeking support from friends, family, medical practitioners and other support services, or the broader community. The Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society seeks to address these issues by providing a safe, confidential, peer driven point of contact, and a range of support, knowledge-sharing, and other resources. This results in improved health outcomes, better quality of life and a sense of community support for people who might otherwise struggle in isolation.
Additionally the Society and some of its individual members engage in outreach projects to encourage knowledge within the general population regarding safety, prevention, and advocacy, as well as working to dispel misinformation, stereotyping, and unfounded fears surrounding HIV. New initiatives in expanding the reach of the Society and partnering with other organizations are being undertaken.
A partial list of the Society’s accomplishments include:
- Fundraising and community education events such as Red Ribbons Campaigns for World AIDS Day, AIDS Walks, and carrying a banner in the Saltspring Pride march.
- Sponsoring speakers at community and educational venues.
- Partnering with SOLID to host an AIDS Conference.
- Sending delegates to AIDS related conferences for educational and networking opportunities which benefit local members.
- Liaised with local medical practitioners and brought in an HIV expert to educate staff at Lady Minto Hospital.
- Providing an on-going support network for persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
- Helping defray costs of complimentary therapies.
All of these efforts have been accomplished thanks to the efforts of volunteers, allies, community advocates, and supportive local businesses. Unlike most HIV/AIDS Service Organizations, the Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society does not rely on government funding, but solely on local fundraising efforts and by partnering with other service organizations. The successes of the organization are extraordinary considering the shoe-string budget on which it has operated over the years.
Ways to support the Southern Gulf Island AIDS Society:
- The society gets a significant portion of its funds from the “Save-a-tape” program at Country Grocer on Saltspring Island. Put your grocery receipt in the Society’s box near the left exit door of the store. Our box is #093. Country Grocer generously donates 1% of the totals of those tapes.
- Each year in the weeks before and after World AIDS Day (December 1st), SGIAS puts supplies of Red Ribbons along with donation boxes on the counters and checkouts of many island businesses and service providers. Please take a Red Ribbon and wear it to to honour the memory of the many who have died, and in support of those still living with HIV. Also, please consider leaving a donation in the box.
- Consider making a direct donation to support the work of the Society. Cheques can be made out to Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society. Contact us for information on where to send your donation. [NOTE: The Southern Gulf Island AIDS Society is a registered non-profit society in the Province of British Columbia. It is not a registered charity, therefore unable to issue tax receipts.]
- Other offers of assistance or suggestions for projects or fundraising opportunities are always welcome.
More info about HIV/AIDS today:
For over 30 years this global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people around the world, and despite many advances in understanding and treating the virus that causes AIDS, there is still no cure or preventative vaccine, but there is hope. Today there are medications that suppress the HIV virus within the body, slowing its progression and making its transmission to others highly improbable. For people in countries with widespread access to medications this has changed an HIV-positive diagnosis from an imminent death-sentence into a long-term journey; a journey, none-the-less fraught with challenges, but at least one with the prospect of living productive and fulfilling lives. The reality is much more tragic for the millions of affected people in other parts of the world where access to life-saving medications is limited.
Complacency – With the memories of the dark, fear-filled, early days of the pandemic fading, and the slowing of the AIDS-related death toll from a torrent to a trickle, many people today don’t realize that this is still a major crisis, and one that even here in Canada, directly impacts the lives of thousands of people and their families in the face of social stigmas and prejudices that are still, sadly, all too common in our society. It has also resulted in many people of all walks of life becoming complacent about the risks and engaging in unsafe practices, fuelling a new wave of infections. In fact, of the over 70,000 Canadians estimated to be HIV-positive, as many as a quarter of them don’t even know they carry the virus, and therefore, don’t know to seek support and treatment. It is those people who are most at risk of passing on the virus to others, thus perpetuating the problem.
Progress – By engaging the public in the discussion around HIV/AIDS we all can be part of the solution. Knowledge is the best defense for people to avoid becoming HIV-positive. Access to treatment and support services is the best way for people living with HIV to thrive and prevent further transmission. We are fortunate that British Columbia is a world leader in the battle against HIV, however, living in smaller communities or rural areas can be isolating and a challenge to accessing service that are mainly based in the larger centres. In 1996, a group of four Salt Spring Islanders living with HIV got together and formed a support group that has grown each and every year. Due to the increasing involvement of our members in community awareness, education and fundraising, the Southern Gulf Island AIDS Society was formed in 2006. Since then this peer-driven organization has been making a difference in the lives of islanders and some of the members have reached out beyond our shores to be involved in regional, national and international projects and initiatives.
Connect – If you or someone you know would benefit from accessing the Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society please contact us. Confidentiality and discretion are assured. Upon first contact with the society people living with HIV are offered one-to-one contact, either by email, phone or in person, with an understanding, HIV+ volunteer who can share a range of information on what SGIAS has to offer and can also refer them to other local or region services that would be suitable for them to access. After that, if and when they feel comfortable, they may be invited to meet with the local HIV Support Group which provides a safe, welcoming venue to share knowledge, ask questions and discuss issues. The ability to spend time among a circle of peers without concern about stigma or judgement can be a truly uplifting experience.
Anyone, regardless of their HIV status, is also welcome to contact the society regarding HIV related issues such as prevention information or to become informed in how to be supportive of HIV+ or at risk people in their lives. HIV- allies are an important aspect to winning the battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We invite you to be part of the solution.