158-20-Malatsi JostinoThis article was written by long time valued volunteer Brittany Stares



If the impact of Art for AIDS International was measured only in terms of beautiful artwork produced, there would be no question that the organization is successful. Its head office and gallery are constantly filled with stunning limited edition prints, rotated on a regular basis, showcasing the powerful creativity from students even as young as twelve years of age.


The organization’s work, however, goes far beyond art. In addition to raising funds for initiatives providing care for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa, Art for AIDS International has, for fifteen years, used unique collage-making workshops to: educate young people about HIV, AIDS and other social issues, boost self-esteem, and connect students to the transformative power of creativity and self-expression. Each workshop delivers important, potentially life-saving information about HIV and AIDS.


It can be difficult to assess the impact of this information. Sometimes, the communities we visit lack the resources or facilities to measure the local prevalence of HIV and AIDS. More often, widespread stigma against HIV-infected individuals, and the fear of being stigmatized, pose the greatest barrier to testing. As such, we often cannot see if rates of testing, infection or even treatment change after an Art for AIDS workshop.


One way we gauge our impact is with evaluation forms, completed by each workshop participant. Consistently, we are rated 90 and above out of 100. For many younger participants, their enthusiasm is directed towards the art portion of the workshop. While it is lovely to nurture the dreams of aspiring artists, the real hope – at least for me, as a volunteer – comes from reading the words of students, usually a little older, who have absorbed the information about HIV, AIDS and self-esteem, and who are committed to using this information to help themselves and others. From participant reviews of workshops in South Africa in March 2015, for instance: “[I learned that] I should get tested each and every month,” “I will now speak up and tell the community about HIV and AIDS,” “This workshop taught me something that I will never forget in my life,” and “With this workshop we can build a bright future for ourselves as youngsters and we can be a good example in our homes and community.”


This is positive enough, tremendously so. But another indicator of our impact – a sign that our work resonates long after the fun and novelty of collage-making wears off – comes from the many young people who reach out to us from all corners of the globe after participating in one of our workshops. Here is a segment of an email received by Art for AIDS International Director Hendrikus Bervoets from one such student:


“Dear Mr. Hendrikus,
… I just want to say thank you so much for your fantastic workshop today on collage[-making]. I learned a lot from you and how interesting collages can be if you combine imagination with passion…


Your ideas, views of life and ideals have greatly touched me and I just want you to know that I share the same ideals and views as you about self respect, confidence, passion, kindness and life. You make me want to strengthen all these views, be more independent about my decisions and be a better person like yourself.

… So thank you again for stepping into my life and becoming an inspiration to me. You are truly a unique individual that has inspired this young mind. I hope to become a splendid and exceptional individual like you and accomplish as much as you have in my life since it has always been a dream of mine to help people.”


From another email, this one nearly a year after the workshop was conducted:


“…I’m glad to tell you that I have successfully completed my high school and AS level I was doing last year. Since I’m free for a few months now, I would like to dedicate my time to helping anyone I can, so you, your incredible efforts, story and Art for AIDS came to mind.


I am still very inspired by you and what you do, even though we only met once for a few hours. Thank you again for coming to my school…”


We know we cannot quantify some aspects of our impact at Art for AIDS International. Sometimes, though, the surest signs of success come from things you can’t quantify at all.


Listening intently to the presentation.
Listening intently to the presentation.