A Snapshot of HIV and AIDS on Saint Martin

This post was written by Brittany Stares, volunteer

Last month, while most of Canada was experiencing record cold temperatures, Art for AIDS International Director Hendrikus Bervoets travelled to sunny Saint Martin to conduct the organization's first workshop in the Caribbean. Popular image of the Caribbean runs to warm weather, sand and palm trees, but the region also has the second-highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world, behind only sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 1% of the Caribbean's adult population is living with HIV/AIDS (contrast this with 0.2-0.4% in Canada ), though the number of new infections is on the decline. Poverty, gender inequality and high levels of migration between islands have all contributed to the disease's hold in the region.

A small island in the northeast corner of the Caribbean, Saint Martin has not escaped the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Divided into the Dutch constituent country of Sint Maarten and the French Collectivity of Saint Martin with a total population of 77,000, the island is thought to have “moderate to high” risk for HIV transmission, due in part to its heavy reliance on tourism and high transient population. In 2011, 670 persons were known to be living with HIV/AIDS and under care on the island, though troublingly, this figure is thought to represent only 1/3 of the infected population . Under-registration and under-diagnosis, particularly on the Dutch side of the island, constitute a major challenge in tackling the disease locally.

Art for AIDS International was hosted by the Sint Maarten AIDS Foundation, the island's oldest organization with a focus on HIV/AIDS. Established in 1990, the Sint Maarten AIDS Foundation describes itself as “seek[ing] to prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs and reduce their negative impact, including stigma and discrimination, while providing compassionate care, practical support services and advocating on behalf of those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS” on the island. Members of the Sint Maarten AIDS Foundation participated in the collage-making workshop, giving aid workers the chance to experience firsthand the power of art and self-esteem building in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This also allows the organizations to share knowledge and build future opportunities to collaborate.

Art produced at this workshop was displayed and sold at the Art for AIDS International gallery in London, Ontario and is still available for purchase in our online shop.

92 Students at today's workshop!

UJ_logoArt for Aids Logo MedToday we had 92 students at our Coronation S.S. Art for AIDS International- U.J. Workshop.
In the end we had 72 students creating artwork. Many thanks to all the students and Community Engagement.

Continuing Train the Trainer Program in Africa

Auckland Park Bunting Road TTT4Auckland Park Bunting Road TTT3Auckland Park Bunting Road TTT2Art for AIDS International is working all this week once again with new facilitators, who are preparing their own personal stories for use in conducting their own workshops with younger peers. It is very encouraging to see the serious faces in the photos from Africa which show how passionate these young blossoming leaders are about making positive change in the world.
Auckland Park Bunting Road TTT

Train the Trainer in Africa

photo (8)The Train the Trainer program is well under way in South Africa since Art for AIDS International's facilitator arrived last week. It is wonderful to see the smiling faces of young people in training to lead workshops, as well as the beautiful pieces of artwork coming out of the collage-making portion of their time together. Student evaluation surveys have been very positive with high scores for participant satisfaction. We are very grateful to the University of Johannesburg's Department of Community Engagement for organizing these workshops and helping to make it all possible. photo (6)

A Return to Hopefulness

This post was written by Sarah Barzak, volunteer for Art for AIDS International in London, Canada

Social justice has been and continues to be a concept I keep in the back of my mind. Immigrating to Canada at the age of five, social issues were heavily discussed at the dinner table and watching the 10pm news was a daily activity in our household. All throughout high school I participated in social justice, multi-cultural and volunteer service clubs. Participating in those activities allowed me to bond with like-minded people and also kept me engaged with current issues. More importantly, it made me realize that there’s always a position to play in the grand scheme of things. However, once in university, studying the complexities of social issues made me reassess my views. I started to label my thinking as ‘idealistic’ and became skeptical of how my actions could contribute in solving social problems. Injustice seemed to be everywhere: locally and globally; and seemed too big to tackle. Now, instead of feeling hopeful, I felt angry. I was angry because I was under the impression that not enough people cared, not enough people were informed and too many were ignorant. The culture of the university lecture played a big part in cultivating my skepticism. The constant critiquing and analyzing of theories was brought out of the classroom and into my day-to-day life to which those feelings felt inescapable. After some time, I thought to myself I wasn't happy with my current attitude and I missed feeling hopeful. I missed encountering an issue and thinking: “hey, what can I do to be a part of the solution” instead of ‘conceptualizing the complexities’ as I would in class.

Volunteering for Art for AIDS International was a step I took in trying to bring back that hope. When I came into the volunteer workshop, it was my first time interacting with the other volunteers and I was moved by the honesty and openness of the environment.  I felt overjoyed because it was my first time since graduating high school that I felt that level of warmth and comfort in my surrounding. What fascinated me the most about the organization was its way of having art work as a vessel to carry out discussion. I especially admired the organization’s role in working with young people in hopes to evoke consciousness of both social and personal matters. Making collages brought out a different mode of thinking in which I didn’t have to rationalize, I could as Hendrikus put it: “play”. I think part of working with art is allowing your mind to think freely in order to showcase alternative perspectives and modes of expression. Something about not thinking critically felt therapeutic and initiated a feeling of ‘at-one’ with myself. This was an important step in my self-reflection process because it served as an opportunity to regenerate. Also, listening to Hendrikus’ story made me realize that my experience is indeed a part of a journey. Though I may experience ups and downs, disappointments and accomplishments, it is important to always be honest with myself. All in all, I’m excited to work with Art for AI International, not only to see how a charitable organization operates but also to add to my life long learning experiences.  small155-13

Unlocking Emotions Through Art


This blog was written by Brittany Stares, volunteer


I volunteer in the Art for AIDS International gallery, a place that, despite the beautiful artwork on the walls, doesn't always convey the depth of the organization’s work. My first experience with Art for AIDS International was reviewing evaluations of the workshop from Botswana and South Africa to draw out useful content for social media. It was a startlingly moving experience. Students were not describing the workshop as merely “fun” or “educational,” they described it – over and over again – as life changing. An immeasurable source of confidence. A first step into helping their family and community.

Last month, Hendrikus Bervoets, Executive Director for Art for AIDS International, hosted one of these workshops for volunteers. Art is an area I enjoy the way a child enjoys splashing in the pool: with sheer delight, even though I’m terrible at it. As expected, the workshop taught me a lot about HIV and AIDS (enough that I promptly shared stats about the disease via Facebook right after), as well as the background of the organization. But it also taught me something about myself, and the power of art.

During the workshop, torn paper became art at my fingertips. I felt a fierce attachment to the work I was creating. More, I felt a sense of pride; it was the first thing in weeks I’d felt pride in. I felt disappointment when my collage was taken away, even to become a print. That night, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and felt a storm of emotions unrelated to the workshop – anger, hurt, unhappiness, frustration. I knew enough about feelings to recognize that this wasn't bad. Art, like play therapy, can allow us to access feelings and emotions we may not be immediately aware of. It can allow us to tap into anything from built-up stress and tension from the day to day to major grief and pain from past trauma. This might be unpleasant to feel, but it’s important – without feeling it, we cannot heal it. Our feelings deserve “the dignity of our attention,” and there is is nothing worse, or more damaging in the long run, than blocking off what we feel.

My feelings that night were large and difficult. They were rooted in questions about where my life was going, if I was making the right choices. These are feelings that, at this point in my life, will be around for a while, and healing will be an ongoing process. But today, as I saw my collage as a finished print, I felt peace.


“Inspiring Confidence & Compassion one Collage at a Time”

This blog was written by Clemence Tshilomba Ngandu, volunteer
I believe we’re meant to be apart of the world but not of it. We’re meant to let our uniqueness and individual personalities drive us to excel at our fullest potentials. To love ourselves, as well as others unconditionally despite their flaws. To inspire and be inspired, and eventually, grow into the man or woman we were destined to be. But all those things are easier said then done. To be being yourself is easier said then done. In a world that’s constantly dismaying you by telling you “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t” or “that was never meant for you”, it’s easy to get discouraged and go through the motions of sadness and low-self esteem.
But at times, I think we forget that we aren’t alone in this feeling and that the world isn’t as awful as one might think. There are also outlets and people who want nothing more than see you grow as a person and excel! To see you expand your horizons, to challenge you, to see the world through the eyes of someone else, to show you that you are not alone despite how you might feel. And I believe that outlets like Art for AIDS International do this beautifully.
For the duration of a workshop hosted by Art for AIDS International, people of all ages, whether they are a young child, a student volunteer or an adult can come together and are educated and exposed to the reality of HIV and AIDS and those it affects. Through the medium of art, people partaking in the workshop(s) are then left to express themselves and how they feel about what they’ve been taught through different artistic methods such as finger painting and unique collages. For an hour or two of that day, there is no pressure to meet an ideal or to try and produce a piece of artwork that will be critiqued or judged. For an hour or two, you can let your imagination run wild and let your thoughts and feelings come to life; no strings attached.
There is a great freedom in not being told what to do. At these workshops, Hendrikus pairs art with HIV and AIDS awareness in a way that will resonate with a variety of people all over the world. At Art for AIDS International, our goal is educate people about the epidemic of HIV and AIDS through art. But it doesn’t just stop there. Art for AIDS International also strives to expose unlocked potential, to show people from all walks of life that they are valued and can make a difference. Whether they cut and paste or host their own workshops; their role in the world, whether big or small matters. Many times we see beauty in others and other things that we forget to see in ourselves. On top of spreading HIV and AIDS awareness, Art for AIDS International reminds us that there is beauty in all things, including ourselves.
- Clemence Ngandu

Welcome To The New Art For AIDS International Website


Dear Friends,

I am excited to welcome you to the new, mobile-friendly, Art for AIDS International website. Over the last few weeks, our volunteers have worked hard to find new ways to share our story with all of you online, along with some of the incredible works of art made by young people during Art for AIDS workshops. In addition to creating more space to share our photographs and blog posts, we've made it easier than ever to browse, share, and purchase Art for AIDS artwork - all in support of programmes that benefit women and children affected by HIV and AIDS in some of the communities most affected by the epidemic.

[box type="alert" icon="none"]In recognition of our new website, we're offering free shipping on our prints throughout the month of May. Type "NEWSITE" in the "Apply Coupon" field of your shopping cart before you checkout.[/box]

We'll be adding more new prints to our online Gallery and Shop and some exciting features that are still in the works. If you have any suggestions for other new features or information you'd like to see on our site, please don't hesitate to contact us.

I would like to offer my thanks and appreciation to our visitors for taking the time to learn more about what we are doing to engage young people in the global response to AIDS though education and the arts.


Hendrikus Bervoets
Executive Director
Art for AIDS International

Photo Courtesy of Dave Chidley

A Response to a TED Talk by Kristen Ashburn

The following post was written by Marie-France Roche, student intern at Art for AIDS International.


“When I first arrived in beautiful Zimbabwe, it was difficult to understand that 35 percent of the population is HIV positive. It really wasn’t until I was invited to the homes of people that I started to understand the human toll of the epidemic.”-Kristen Ashburn

In this inspiring TED talk, Kristen Ashburn, a talented documentary photographer, shares her experiences of her visit to Zimbabwe. Ashburn met and photographed several people affected by the HIV and AIDS, many of whom had little hope of survival. Her most devastating photographs depict young people affected by AIDS. One boy, named Herbert, is pictured with his grandmother, so frail that he is hardly able to hold himself up. Herbert lost both his parents to AIDS, and eventually lost his own life to the disease. Ashburn’s photographs capture the too-often traumatizing reality of AIDS in the most heavily affected region of the world.

At Art for AIDS International, students participating in workshops translate their insights into the production of unique collage artwork. Although these pieces do not always directly reflect the effects of the AIDS epidemic, they inspire students to engage in the cause by responding to what they've learned in the workshop. Ashburn’s work brings individuals closer with those facing adversity. Our workshops do not only create awareness about the prominence of  AIDS in Africa, but also bring the students closer to the cause through participatory involvement in producing this artwork.

Art can serve as a powerful medium to depict the effects of AIDS, and to engage young people in an important cause. At Art for AIDS International, our work is directly connected to passionate individuals who are involved in AIDS prevention and awareness, and can act as an agent of change by connecting people around the world to the organization.

You can see more of Ashburn’s work here.

Reflections from South Africa

The following post was written by Art for AIDS Marketing and Communications Intern Robyn Bell.


At Art for AIDS International, it is always our intention to have an impact on young people that extends far beyond our two-day workshops.  Last year and the year before, we travelled to South Africa to host workshops in Soweto, a township outside of Johannesburg.  At every workshop, we hope to educate about the impact of HIV, but also to build confidence for participating young people.  We seek to educate, inspire and motivate them.  Our hope is that after these workshops have ended students can continue to make a difference in their communities.

From our workshops in Soweto in 2012, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  It was wonderful to hear how confident each student felt after the workshop, and about their desires to continue with community involvement around HIV awareness after the workshop had ended.

Here are some of our favourite comments from participating students:

“This workshop was a blessing to me.  It taught us how to be determined to get what we want in life.  They taught us to love our community and to love ourselves, and to engage in the community.”

“What I found most valuable is that keeping something to yourself is not a good thing, you must learn to express it and that a collage can tell a really good story.”

“It taught us about what we never knew was real.  It encouraged us to realize that anything is possible.  It brings hope to those who never thought they could make it in life.”

“We were able to be open and we were given a chance to speak about anything we wanted to.”

“I really appreciated the help and idea that we got from Hendrikus.  We were made to recognize things we didn’t know we could do.”

“The workshop was brilliant, it took our minds off a lot of problems that we have as teenagers.  Participating in it was therapeutic and helped me to distress.”

“The workshop opened my eyes and made me realize that art is more like your daily routine, meaning that art is what you eat, sleep and walk.  It really made my day.”

“The workshop really taught me to believe in myself and not to think about what people say behind my back.  From today I will stand up for myself and achieve my goals as a young woman.”

To these students, we reciprocate the thank you, and say keep up the great work in your communities.