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Ignominia

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Review for Shanti Project, San Francisco, CA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

I found myself at the Shanti reception desk as if in a dream after reading an ad on the bus. It was the early 80's and we were in the middle of the AIDS pandemic and that ad made me realize that I could help immensely just making someone's bed.

I was 26, barely off the boat from Italy and I felt like a child among adults when throughout the 3 day training I heard people's stories and experiences, their sorrows and backgrounds often difficult and very different from mine, because of their sexual orientation, social status, religion or culture but still wanting to help others nevertheless.

The training was one of the best things that happened to me, it brought me back to a level of compassion and empathy I had long buried inside. I wanted to test my ideas and believes about suffering and death but was assigned a client that was relatively well and I cleaned his house weekly for 9 months, slowly getting to know him better. Other volunteer friends were not so lucky and ended up saying goodbye to 6 or 7 clients during the same period of time. Some of the volunteers were HIV positive and getting sick themselves and still did amazing things for their clients.
People said that HIV/AIDS brought the best out of the Gay Community, which got closer and better organized to fight discriminatory policies and lack of support from the status quo.

I marched in the Gay Parade that year and it was a great experience. At the time the director was Jim Geary -who was also present at our training weekend- and there was some dissent on how he was managing that got in the papers, so I was not expecting the support of SF citizens lining Market Street clapping and cheering when we passed as the Shanti volunteers group.
In my naiveté I asked a volunteer friend why, if they were so loudly supportive, did they not also volunteer like we did. He had to explain to me that not everyone can do what we were doing, most people prefer writing checks or clap from a distance.
I am surely grateful to have volunteered and learned all I did then, thank you Shanti.

Role:  Volunteer