Lifeline Counselling Ser-vices, Guyana’s leading non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the fight against HIV and AIDS, yesterday celebrated its seventh anniversary with the unveiling of a Lifeline HIV and AIDS Quilt and the launching of its annual walkathon. Yesterday’s celebration also saw an open day at the organisation’s Cummings Street location. The organisation’s mission is to reduce the psychosocial impact of HIV and AIDS on persons living with or affected by the disease through counselling and education. Since its establishment it has expanded its reach and is now battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic with a variety of social services which include free and confidential counselling, education outreach training, care and support, condom distribution, facilitation of HIV testing and research.
At the cutting of its anniversary cake a number of persons were present including Chairman and founding member, Dereck Springer, who has just returned from England after further studies; Managing Director of Courts, David Burgess and his wife, Kayleigh, who is the patron of Lifeline; and US Ambassador, Roland Bullen. Kayleigh Burgess unveiled the quilt she helped design and said it was a very good symbol of what Lifeline was all about. She pointed out that when Phillip Vanderhyden and Springer first talked about setting up a counselling service they were the threads that brought everything together.
She explained that the patches in the quilt represented individuals who on their own would not be able to achieve very much, but who together could make something useful. The patches in the quilt were donated by companies and individuals who have helped Lifeline in some way over the last seven years.
“In the end the quilt, simply by the fact of being made by so many people may not be perfect - but then what in life is?’ Burgess asked.
The annual Phillip Vanderhyden Walkathon, celebrates the life of Vanderhyden, who is often referred to as the first face of HIV/AIDS in Guyana because of his courage to work towards restoring dignity to persons with the disease.
The walkathon will be held on October 26 and it will start from the Bank of Guyana and move through a number of streets in the city sticking to the same route that was used by Vanderhyden.
Executive Director of Lifeline, Jimmy Bhojedat, said that to take part in the walkathon would be an expression of the support in the fight against HIV. Bhojedat said that the walkathon would be conducted under the `Stop Stigma & Discrimination’ theme and also the recently launched `Words Have Power’ by USAID. Springer said that the organisation would go down in history as one that pioneered HIV counselling and treatment.
The organisation has been able to create an environment in which young people have the opportunity to be involved, and Springer attested to this fact by pointing out that Bhojedat is only 25.
Bhojedat is among only six persons in receipt of the UNDP award for his work in helping to educate on, and combat HIV/AIDS. The organisation was founded on October 22, 1996 and was formally registered as a non-profit NGO on December 3, 1997.
The NGO has provided counselling to a little over 3,100 persons in and outside its office, trained 86 counsellors and 12 trainers of counsellors. To date over 120 adult HIV and AIDS educators, 140 peer educators and 45 trainers of educators have been trained.
Three full-time staff and 52 volunteers support the executive director. A volunteer co-ordinator has the responsibility of supervising the pool of volunteers, including those from Canada and the United States whose tour of duty lasts between three months and two years. The organisation provides its services from a four-room rented building and offsets all overheads with support from donors and through fundraising.