This post was written by Art for AIDS Workshop participant, and long-time volunteer Serena Merucci.

My journey with Art for AIDS International began when I was a fourteen-year-old grade eight student from Strathroy Community Christian School in 2006. Our art teacher contacted Art for AIDS in order to do a workshop for one of our art assignments. Our teacher told us about this organization the week before our workshop was scheduled and we were all quite intrigued as my classmates and I were never fully aware of the AIDS pandemic and how awful it truly is. I clearly remember coming in from recess the day of the scheduled workshop, sitting down at my desk and seeing this strange white-haired man standing at the front of our classroom with our art teacher. When we all quieted down, he introduced himself as Hendrikus Bervoets and began snapping his fingers in a steady rhythm.

“Every time I snap my fingers, someone, somewhere in the world dies from AIDS,” he said in a solemn voice.

We were shocked; there was a dead silence throughout the classroom for a good thirty seconds before Hendrikus starting talking again. He then proceeded to tell us about the AIDS pandemic in Africa and how Art for AIDS International’s mission was to help those affected by HIV and AIDS. After his short speech he told us about how we could help the cause by making collages and selling them in order to raise money for those who needed it most. We were all thrilled that we could actually help and the mood in the classroom changed significantly. Everyone became increasingly engaged. For the next two art classes, we had a great time making collages.

Pieces were then selected from our class’ work to be printed and then sold. We organized a small fundraiser in our school gym after the collages were printed so family members could come out and buy their children’s artwork.

At that point in time I was aspiring to be an artist, and for the first time in my life someone was buying my art. I was so thrilled by the idea that I was an actual artist now, as well as I was able to help people affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa by raising money for organizations that provided them with care and support.

Two years then past from my first encounter with Art for AIDS and I never forgot about them. When I was in grade ten at the London District Christian Secondary School, an announcement was made that Art for AIDS was coming to do a workshop at the high school and all who wanted to participate had to sign up. I was sick on the day of the announcement and when I got back to school a friend of mine, who was in the same grade eight class as me, told me about the workshop and I was thrilled. I asked my teacher if I could leave class to go sign up in for the workshop and I was devastated to learn that it was already full.  I rushed to the office and begged to be allowed to participate. Luckily, our kind secretary somehow managed to squeeze me in and I am still forever grateful to her. I was able to participate in the workshop and I made new collages that were printed and sold in the new gallery space that Art for AIDS had recently opened. This was another boost for my artistic aspirations.

It was after this workshop in 2008 that I began volunteering for Art for AIDS. For the next two years, I volunteered regularly at the gallery on a weekly basis and helped run Art for AIDS booths at events and festivals.

I am now in my second year at Western University where I am completing my undergraduate Bachelor’s degree in Art History, Theory and Criticism.

The influence Art for AIDS has had on my life over the past seven years has been dramatic and profound.

Through this organization I have become more confident, not only as an artist, but as an individual as well. I credit Art for AIDS for helping me become the passionate and determined person I am today.