AIDS2014

It’s the last week of holidays, a great time to reflect on the latter part of my break, particularly volunteering at the 20th international AIDS conference.

Out of the 6 days (Sun-Fri) that the conference ran for, I volunteered on the 3rd (Tue) and 5th (Thu) days and attended the sessions that ran on the 4th (Wed) and final (Fri) days.

My first shift of volunteering began from 1pm to 9pm, so I arrived early to claim my complimentary lunch. During lunch, I met a Monash MBBS student in second year and another one in first year, both of which graduated from Mac. Robertson’s High School, the sister school of my high school. It was interesting to see how there were so many prospective medical students, albeit I was not surprised. After lunch, I met up with my volunteer supervisor and we got along swell. He was a middle-aged man from Burundi (Central Africa) that came to live in Australia seven years ago. I found it really inspirational when he told me that he did year 12 when he first arrived here and he is currently undertaking post-graduate study in public health. It takes an immense amount of ambition to study amongst youth who are not even legally allowed to drink alcohol when you’ve been in that situation around 20 years ago. Not only to study for one year, but to pursue future study whilst your wife essentially supports you and your family. My volunteer role was people movement and what I essentially did was I helped delegates out with directions. However, by that time of the week, most of the delegates already knew where most venues were located. To be honest, the work was pretty boring. We chatted to the exhibition staff and to other volunteers. During my dinner break, I went to Crown and sat down on a table with my food. Soon after, a delegate sat on the opposite side of the table two seats towards my right. After a moment, I asked how he was finding the conference and started a conversation with him. It turned out that he was a physician from Ghana, who did his post-graduate studies in Europe and often flew to the States for work. Before we departed, I vaguely showed him the directions to South Warf DFO, a shopping centre for those of you who do not know.

I arrived an hour early the day ex-President Clinton was to speak at a half-hour session. Luckily enough for me, I managed to secure a position near the front of the line. After we were let in through the doors, we waited, and we waited for Bill Clinton until he finally arrived when his session was meant to have finished. Although his age did show, his speech nonetheless was very eloquent and moving, especially towards the end. Afterwards, I went to DFO to revamp my wardrobe for uni. I bought two shoes, a cardigan, a v-neck jumper and a polo. Below is a snapshot of the man himself on the podium – please excuse the quality as I had to utilise my full-zoom from my distant seat:

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My second volunteering shift began a lot differently than my first shift. There I met a physician from India who came here to volunteer and attend sessions. It turned out that she also volunteered at the previous AIDS conference in Washington, D.C.  Our lunch was shortly interrupted by an announcement of an imminent volunteer group photo, to which we hastily finished our meals. There, I met up with my Burundian supervisor and we had a few photos taken together. After the photos, it was back to work. Much of it was the same as my first session, except we met different exhibition staff, notably a friendly man from New Zealand and a cute woman from Malaysia. I also bumped into the physician from Ghana again, which was a joy to see him again. He wanted to go shopping and I saw it fitting to lead him to DFO as a part of my volunteer role. I told him it would be great if one day I met him in Ghana as a doctor and he gave me his business card. During a toilet break, I met a retired volunteer from the London who moved here to Melbourne. It was an interesting encounter; the man was very friendly and wanted to write an article about my opinion on the AIDS conference over lunch in about 2 weeks time, so he gave me his business card. Towards the end of the day, one of the volunteer coordinators called me to help the International AIDS Society booth (IAS) finish up in the Global Village. When I got there I was asked to provide information about the next few AIDS conferences to anyone who enquired. After a while, I began helping out the IAS staff by primarily moving boxes filled with resources including scientific journals, flyers and information. It was a shame that they were to be thrown away because there was a lot of paper to say the least. By the time we finished packing, the IAS staff were conversing amiably with a man that wanted to salvage what he could of what would otherwise be thrown out, so I offered a helping hand to carry a box filled to the brim, whilst he carried three in a suitcase. Don’t get me wrong, the box was heavy and made the walk an arduous task. It turned out that this amiable man was in fact a physician and the Senior Manager, Policy & Advocacy of the IAS; I was honoured to have met him. I swear every 2 minutes that we walked, people would stop him and send their salutations. I helped him package another full suitcase of resources before we parted ways. I commented on how it would be lovely to one day bump into him after I attain my medical degree and he gave me his business card. Shortly after I returned to my Burundian supervisor, an Iranian woman asked if it was possible to find a substitute AIDS conference bag for her broken, as it bore her laptop and other valuable items. I suppose this was the highlight good deed I did during my conference experience, as I gave her my own one. I really didn’t need the bag, but she was very thankful and even offered to return the bag to me the next day at the conference! I sure hope my act of kindness made her stay in Melbourne memorable.

On the final day of the conference, I attended the rapporteur session and the closing session. The former session attempted to wrap up all of the sessions for those who missed any during the week. It was amusing to see each of the speakers attempt to summarise their designated topics within the short span of 15 minutes, but nonetheless, A+ for effort. The latter session kicked off with an African singer. There was a speech delivered by a HIV-positive man that brought a tear to my eye; he spoke as well as Obama. There were also speeches from a HIV-positive woman, an intravenous drug user (IDU) activist, an award ceremony and announcements of the future co-chairs of the IAS and the future president for AIDS2016. But the surprise guest that took the show away for the closing session was none other than Sir Bob Geldof. He presented his speech as a ramble of his thoughts, which was a little unorthodox, but extremely effective in his call for countries that provide minuscule HIV/AIDS funding (compared to GDP per capita) to step up the pace. There was a volunteer after party that night, but I decided to take leave of my clubbing career for now. Below is a snapshot of Geldof’s surprise presentation.

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Here are couple of photos of some others from the volunteering team:

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University begins next week, I’m a third of the way through Martin’s Clash Of Kings, and I have barely touched GAMSAT study. I may as well enjoy my last day of holidays rather than stress myself out. Although I do have my first microbes prac on the second day back…

In other news, I asked my volunteer supervisor at ACMAV if I could shadow him and he enthusiastically said yes. He told me to fill out some forms online to get covered by insurance and to email him if I had any issues. I tried to find the forms but had no luck, so I sent him an email. He does tend to take a while in replying to his emails, but I suppose he is a busy man!

Cheers,
J

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