Raise flags and hang scarves in St. Catharines for HIV/AIDS Awareness Week

Mutsa Charamba, Community Development and Education Coordinator at Positive Living Niagara, with some of the dozens of scarves she hangs on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines for the Red Scarves Project. She says giving back to the community

Next time you’re in downtown St. Catharines, you’ll be hard pressed not to notice the dozens of red scarves tied to lampposts, trees and parking meters all along St. Paul Street.

This marks the start of HIV/AIDS Awareness Week: the Red Scarf Project, along with the raising of a flag above St. Catharines City Hall, helps draw attention to the still prevalent issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic – and its impact on Niagara.

Mayor Walter Sendzik and Positive Living Niagara Community Development and Education Coordinator Mutsa Charamba hoisted a flag with the Positive Living Niagara logo above City Hall on Monday, November 22.

“There are a lot of people in our community who are affected by HIV and there is a lot of stigma surrounding it,” Charamba said after the flag was raised. “We do something like that, it opens up (opens up) the conversation, so the stigma can hopefully end.”

The latest figures from Statistics Canada show that in 2018 there were approximately 62,050 people living with HIV in Canada.

Positive Living Niagara, a non-profit organization that supports members of the Niagara community living with HIV/AIDS, has raised the flag above City Hall several times over the past years and achieved the Red Scarf Project eight years ago.

“It started very small with, I think, 25 scarves,” said Wendy Matthews, Volunteer and Friendly Visiting Coordinator at Positive Living Niagara. “He just gradually got bigger.”

This year, the group raised more than 2,200 handmade scarves from friends, family and supporters – more than they had the previous year.

“It’s a great education piece,” Matthews said. “It brings the community together and learns what we do.”

A member of Positive Living Niagara ties one of the handmade red scarves to a pole on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines. Wendy Matthews of Positive Living Niagara says people send her scarves from as far away as British Columbia or California: “It’s wonderful. — Zahraa Hmood/Metroland

On Monday afternoon, members of the group marched through the streets of downtown St. Catharines, tying the scarves and distributing them to people in the community. They also hung scarves in Niagara Falls and Welland.

“It’s really encouraging to see all the volunteer work that goes into making the scarves,” said Talia Storm, Director of StreetWorks Harm Reduction Services at Positive Living Niagara. “Then seeing them all on the street is quite impactful.”

Each scarf has a hang tag with HIV/AIDS statistics and a QR code with a link to more information.

“A lot of people see that we give scarves and automatically they know it’s to give back to the community,” Charamba said. “It gets people wanting to know more about our agency, which opens up the conversation about HIV and AIDS.”

This is one of many events that Positive Living Niagara is hosting for HIV/AIDS Awareness Week, November 22-December 1. They are also hosting a celebratory event on Friday evening, November 26 at Amici’s Banquet Hall, a World AIDS Vigil on December 1 at the Museum of St. Catharines and the Welland Canal Center, and raising the flag the same day at regional headquarters. of Niagara.

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