10th National Gathering of the Student Stop AIDS Campaign

Last weekend was the Student Stop AIDS Campaign’s 10th National Gathering in Edinburgh and my first as Student Stop AIDS Campaign Co-ordinator. It was an amazing two days and I was left feeling incredibly inspired by our guest speakers but even more so from the students and young people who attended.

On the Saturday we had a morning of speakers and sessions on the various issues, both current and historic, connected with HIV and AIDS. Diarmaid from STOPAIDS began the day with a talk on the Global Fund to explain why we are so thankful to the UK’s 1 billion pound pledge and what we need to do until then to ensure that this definitely happens. We then had Katy Athersuch from the MSF Access campaign talking about the current problems with the medicines market and how we can fix it, and Sophie Strachan from Positively UK discussing the issue of HIV in prisons and her personal story living with HIV.

Full of knowledge, it was time to learn some skills. Workshops on ‘campaign strategy’, ‘lobbying’, ‘engaging the media’ and ‘art and activism’ helped kit the campaigners out with the tools they need to make their events and actions as creative, strategic and powerful as possible. With brains fit to capacity we spent the evening eating pizza and being emotionally moved by the latest HIV documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague’. We finished off the night with a great ‘Scottish/HIV/general knowledge’ pub-quiz and retired back to our various hosts houses exhausted but happy.

Sunday was just as action packed! The morning was full of more workshops with an ‘HIV 101’ session for new members, a detailed session on treatment by Rebecca McDowell from the activist group i-BASE and a chocolate inspired game to de-construct and simplify the tricky world of TRIPs! The afternoon was all systems go getting ready for the action. Following on from Saturday’s Global Fund session and what we need to do to ensure the UK’S 1 billion pound pledge goes ahead, the plan was to march down to the German and French consulates to urge them to get their governments to increase their pledges to the Fund. The reason behind this is because the UK have said that they will only give the full 1 billion if other countries follow suit with equally as ambitious contributions and currently the German and French announcements are falling short. So we painted our faces with French and German flags, grabbed our ‘Allez les Bleus’ and ‘Deutschland Vor!’ banners and headed to the consulates to deliver a signed letter and chant words of encouragement to President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel to ‘Join the UK and fund the Global Fund!’.

Tired but inspired, we said our goodbyes and started our various journeys back home. The weekend was an amazing way to start the ‘academic’ year of action for the Student Stop AIDS Campaign and was perfectly summed up by one campaigner as ‘inspirational and motivating- a reminder of why we do what we do’. I, personally, was incredibly impressed with the ideas, level of knowledge and enthusiasm of the StopAIDSers and am very much looking forward to being part of a team that play such an instrumental role in the push to end AIDS.

This was a guest post by Saoirse Fitzpatrick, Co-ordinator of the Student Stop AIDS Campaign

View more photos from the National Gathering here