World AIDS Day: Stopping the Stigma

“Once you see that your mother, brother, and neighbor are HIV-positive, and that everyone is living normally, you realize you can’t be scared anymore,” Magret said.

Confronting fear is powerful in any case, but especially for this middle-aged woman from rural Malawi.

Magret (pictured below) is a strong voice in her community, where she serves as a counselor to the chief in her village. The way she approaches her HIV status is equally striking. Despite the fact that nearly 12 percent of people in Malawi are HIV-positive, those who have contracted the disease are often stigmatized. Things are improving in Malawi, Magret says. And there is no question that people like her, who refuse to let the disease define them, are contributing to that.


Globally, 35 million people are living with HIV and AIDS. The majority live in sub-Saharan Africa and many experience poverty, food insecurity and limited access to medical care, in addition to stigma and prejudices. In the United States, there are over 1.1 million people living with the HIV infection, a fact that many buildOn students and most Americans are not generally aware of.

But, thanks to the generous support and partnership of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, students in buildOn’s youth service program participated in a month of activities dedicated to combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS and challenging the myths that come along with the disease. The goal was to have over 1,500 students from across the country join together in 3,000 collective hours of service while spreading awareness in their schools and wider communities.

The programming surpassed their goals, where 2,833 students participated in 4,438 total service hours. At buildOn, we are especially excited for this project because it is the first time that students in each of our youth service programs across the country participated in the same project at the same time.


For example, despite the mid-December chill, buildOn students from Stamford, Connecticut spent an hour standing at a busy intersection in front of the town’s public library to raise awareness. They held posters and encouraged passerbys to break down stigma when think of HIV and AIDS.

“We stayed strong and kept going because we waited to raise awareness about AIDS and stop the stigma. People who have HIV and AIDS are normal people and should not be judged or stereotyped,” Carlos Prado, a junior at Stamford High School said.

Carlos has been in involved for buildOn for two years and thinks it’s incredibly important to work together to raise awareness and share information about important issues like HIV and AIS.

“The more people are informed about the virus, the more people can become closer to each other and stop the stigma. People might avoid those with the virus because they are afraid, they don’t know how the virus spreads and will go as far as neglecting those with it. One thing that I learned from this service is that all men and woman are created equally and should be treated equally with this virus or not,” he said.

Throughout the month, buildOn students participated in a number of educational lessons and service activities related to HIV and AIDS. They learned about the disease and the role that education and information-sharing can play in stopping transmission both in the United States and elsewhere.


Schools also created AIDS quilts, modeled off of a large-scale project meant to bring awareness to the extent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Students designed their own quilt squares with messages such as “Fight AIDS Not People with AIDS,” “Heal the Pain, End the Shame,” and “AIDS Does Not Discriminate.” They displayed their quilts, designed bulletin boards and shared out information about HIV/AIDS at their school. They also partnered with community organizations, such as health clinics and homeless shelters, for larger service projects.

Special thanks to buildOn Trek Coordinator Amy Krzyzek for contributing to this story.