Why did you choose these words?
There has been a long period of my life where I have felt labeled. We all have disabilities and mine was based on war. I came from a civil war-torn country. There has been a negative image that has been associated with my nationality, which has been projected in the media and by other governments. The war was the main reason for my decision to move out of the country. The results were that I moved to Canada where I have been living for 22 years. I came from a well-educated background; I was trained as an agro economist. Yet, when I got here I started from nothing and decided to change careers. I encountered what I see as a glass ceiling for immigrants, where I was labeled based on where I came from. It took me nine years to break those barriers, to learn English, to finish my education in recreational therapy and to show what I can do. I chose these words because Temple Grandin has a disability, autism, and was labeled based on it, but she managed to pull out of that shell by recognizing her own uniqueness and talents.
How do they relate to your experience at the Dr. Peter Centre?
The residents at the Dr. Peter Centre share many of the same experiences based on having HIV. However, I believe that a person should not be stereotyped based on HIV or in my case, the nation I come from. A person should be seen for who they are. I am privileged to work with residents and enable them to overcome these barriers and be a part of the community. People now recognize us and welcome us; there have been many times where we have been given free admission or someone has offered to pay for our lunch or coffee.
What led you to the Dr. Peter Centre?
I came to the Dr. Peter Centre during the 4th year of my practicum and my experience was different from many other students, because I was a mature woman in my forties, and I really wanted to find the right fit that matched my values and passions. I was doing my practicum at the Dr. Peter Centre and another organization more focused on research. I really enjoyed working at the Dr. Peter Centre and felt that I had a lot of freedom to exercise my professional skills. However, I was trying to determine which place was the best fit for me. I was offered a job at the Dr. Peter Centre, but not at the other organization. At first, I was angry that I had been rejected by the other organization. On the day that I found out that I didn’t get the job, I found myself storming down the street, and I passed by a church sign, which I glanced at out of the corner of my eye. I kept walking, but something possessed me to turn around and take a look at. It said: “Follow your passion and not your pension.” Since then, I’ve been following my passion and working at the Dr. Peter Centre.
What would you like people to know about the Dr. Peter Centre?
People see the Dr. Peter Centre residence as the end, as the place where people go at the end of their lives. They are wrong. This is a place for living, not dying. When people come to the residence, they can live normal lives with a chronic illness. Some are now with us for even 10 to 14 years. It is actually rare for someone in the residence to die of AIDS. They are able to live a life with dignity. We do not have closed doors.
What would you like people to know about HIV and AIDS?
Now, with current treatments, a person can live a successful life, and people are becoming more open about it. The less taboo society makes HIV and AIDS, the more successful an individual with HIV will be. We should look at people’s abilities, rather than focusing on their disabilities. Each person is the best thing that ever happened to this world regardless of their past, and they should be allowed to reach their full potential.