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Black Lives Matter Here

Image above of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, London. Taken from twitter.com/smitf_london 
As with everyone else, we have been shocked by the events in the US of the last few weeks and we stand with all those who believe that Black Lives Matter, that racism is a real and systemic problem both in the US and here in Ireland and who lament our broken world.
As a response we want to amplify the voices of Black people and of people of colour, both within and outside the extended ACET family. So here are some resources we have found useful over the past while:
Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns run a wonderful podcast in the US called Pass the Mic. Here they are interviewed by RNS on the recent events. Jemar makes an excellent point when he states that:

“The problem, especially with white evangelical Christians, is that they tend to think the problem of racism is primarily how I feel and act individually towards someone else. That’s things like using a racial slur, excluding someone from your business. So if that’s the problem, then the solution is well, then I’m going to treat people nicely, and some of my best friends are black. What they fail to realize is that racism operates on a systemic level, too.”

Jemar joins activists from either side of the Atlantic on this Greenbelt Festival conversation on Black Lives Matter: Is the church complicit?
We do not do church planting in ACET and we are not a church, but we have found in the work of decolonising church planting and the exploration of what a multi-ethnic church really is that there are many resonances with our ethos and values. Dominance, equity, justice, gentrification, incarnation, colonialist practices and displacement all get highlighted by the team at the V3 Movement here.
In 2016 we had an office on O’Connell Street overlooking the GPO. Observing the centenary of the Easter Rising began a journey of exploring theology and place – that the story of the soil beneath our feet and the place we share life with others is not incidental to our present circumstances. Here is the Yale University Professor Willie Jennings, the foremost voice on the theology of race and place, with his response to recent events.
Rev. Sandra Moon from Kentucky, USA, was the guest preacher at Lucan Presbyterian Church, one of our supporting churches where some of our staff attend. Her sermon on the language of Anti-Racism begins 11:25 in.
We know from experience that ‘delocalising’ is one of the traps of responding to any justice issue. This is where one cites the voice of someone overseas who you already agree with while ignoring the voice of the person directly affected on your street or in your city or in your pew. This has been seen recently with the treatment of LGBT Christians in Ireland. So following our emphasis on the importance of race and place here are some resources from those you share the soil with:
Our Board member Dr. Ebun Joseph is a passionate advocate for black people in Ireland, not least in her field of academia. Check out her Twitter handle.
The team at VOX magazine is in the middle of a series on racism and this includes many voices we have had the privilege of working alongside in ACET. Pastor Gerard Chimbganda, our near neighbour in the North East Inner City of Dublin, begins the series.
Gerard and ACET CEO, Richard Carson, joined together to review two books on race for VOX magazine in 2018. See their discussion.
Finally, Kevin Hargaden from the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, up the road from us on Gardiner Street, reminds us that Ireland’s treatment of the Travelling Community long demonstrates that the Irish criminal justice system is already racist.
In the V3 movement webinar above, Erica Wrencher cautions against the ‘snippeting’ of ethnic minorities, that is where those of us in the majority take a tiny picture of the culture and life of the other and think that we have now become multi-ethnic as we “consume the McDonalds nugget” from a place of scarcity. We are acutely aware that a truly shared life with our neighbours will require a long and steady journey of lament, confession and repentance. A reading list is not the answer. But we hope these resources are a help and that they point us back to a new beginning.

 

 

 

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An update

COVID-19. The latest on our work

For all COVID-19 information including how to protect you and yours, on testing, self-isolating, restricting movements and contact tracing: www.hse.ie/coronavirus

UPDATE: 21st October – We begin again

Following the Taoiseach’s announcement on Monday and Ireland’s move to Level 5 restrictions from Thursday, we have been busy clarifying our role and beginning again to listen to those we serve as their needs are ever changing and evolving.

As a ‘drug treatment and addiction service’ we are defined as an essential service and so our staff and volunteers are working remotely and, where necessary, face-to-face to offer support, hope, comfort, resources and much more. The context of our work has been profoundly complicated by this second pandemic we now work on. One of our current mantras as a team is “Be kind, seek wisdom, stay present.” Every day we are working with individuals, families and community leaders impacted by both HIV and Covid-19. We remain grateful for all your support through this challenging time.

UPDATE: 29th May – Returning to the Workplaces

We are currently planning for returning to our workplaces. Note that we are not returning to work, we never went away. The past 10 weeks have been among the most challenging of our 28-year history.  Rather our admin office, the homes of those we support, local parks and cafés may become places where we can encounter again those we support and serve. There will be lots to work through next week, not just the logistics of what is allowed but the reflections on what is ethical. At the heart of these discussions will be our values, particularly the mutuality of “Drinking from the Same Cup.” Please remember us as we work through how best we can support and serve the people and communities we have the privilege of walking alongside.

UPDATE: 20th May – Light at the end….

Our Inboxes are full of the Return to Work Safely Protocol and associated instructions from funders. While our work remains remote with various supports and communications still being delivered by phone and screen we have been carefully studying the phases of reopening through to August that will inform our work practices for the coming months. The need for our work remains as acute as ever with significant mental health and anxiety challenges adding to the complexity of the supports we provide for those living with and affected by HIV. Meanwhile, communities of migrant origin are helped by the health information on COVID-19 and by the translation of that information into many languages, yet still profound cultural gaps remain in communication requiring steady presence and patience.

We are also aware that the reopening will likely be far more challenging than the lockdown. In the middle of March we were ready for what the uncertain Spring would bring, our ‘tanks were full’ and we adapted well. Now exhaustion is not far away we are making sure to support one another for the cautious steps ahead. Our team, with over 100 years experience working on a pandemic, are ready for whatever the next chapter of our story will bring.

Thank you to all our supporters who have been in touch to pray for us and financially give. Your donations are deeply appreciated and are helping us continue through this challenging time. If you would like to support our work please do. More details are available here.

UPDATE: 24th April – Into the Valley

Sadly the last week has been marked by loss and no small amount of grief. The death of extended family members among those we support, including one we were very close to,  and of one faith community leader in Dublin have demonstrated how close the impact of COVID-19 is to us. Our extensive experience of mourning with those who mourn in a pandemic is real once again and it does not get any easier.

We are currently preparing for the various options that might emerge for 5th May, including recognising that the lifting of restrictions may be very limited. This may only add to the challenges that those we support experience. We have learned, the hard way, the value of eye contact and touch and shared tables and we miss the connection that they bring.

We are also acutely aware that any possible reopening will be very challenging. It will not be one big party. Trauma, grief and loss are complex and layered and so a sharing, collaboration and solidarity will be demanded in new ways. These are challenges we look forward to as we hope for new beginnings.

 

UPDATE: Holy Week 2020

There are two pandemics in the world today. We are working on both.

Sharing a cup of tea or being at table together — whether with clients, staff, or partner organisations — is core to ACET Ireland’s values.

This season is difficult for everyone and ACET’s care work is a daily challenge as the physical connection we form with those we support at a kitchen table or a community café really matters. However, WhatsApp, Zoom, text and old-fashioned phone calls are bridging the distance between us. As individuals and families affected by HIV see increased anxiety and fear each day, our staff are there with reassuring words, practical supports and a listening ear.

Although ACET’s staff are defined as essential workers under the government’s latest guidelines and are allowed travel away from home, we have been asked to keep any visits, even if delivering essential items, to an absolute minimum. With that and some staff members cocooning at home, we are using centralised resources, including our local authorities’ initiatives and HSE-funded partners, where we can.

Faith Communities:
We continue to keep faith communities including churches informed on both pandemics, including with the HSE resources. Again, information itself is only a fragment of our work and tells an incomplete story. It is the richness of faith, hope and love in action in that unites us.

Thank you for all your support.

Lamenting and Hoping

“Oh! How empty the city, once teeming with people.” Lamentations 1:1

The images of deserted streets in cities across the world are among the most striking of this extraordinary time. The opening jab of Lamentations, referring of course to Jerusalem, stresses that the prophetic words are linked to a place as much as to a people. The empty Temple, walls, gates and streets evoke the weeping and remind us that we cannot divorce ourselves from the ground beneath our feet or the neighbours we share our places with.

There are exactly two pandemics in the world today and ACET is working on both. Our experience is that lamenting the 35 million deaths of the AIDS pandemic, which will soon reach its 40th birthday, rapidly became a lament of the places where these lives were lived. This was the case whether that place was within a city with communities of profound socio-economic disparity lying adjacent to one another or the global inequality that is also driving COVID-19 or the way in which the lives of minority communities, particularly gay and bisexual men, were driven to the margins even within the familiar places of homes, schools and churches.

COVID-19 is not a ‘great leveller’ as some speculate. It impacts people and places, both far from and near our homes in different ways. The places of note for this pandemic are our supermarkets, our hospitals, our public transport services, cramped housing conditions and the lack of green urban spaces all of which involve workers and residents in roles our society considers lesser as we elevate those with the wealth to cocoon or isolate safely. 

So why lament? Lamenting draws us deep into the fault lines of injustice of which we were previously unaware. It will not leave us tolerant of the inequalities that catalyse our crises. It is an action that is both an end in itself and an opening to transformation. It puts to death the ‘wisdom of the world’ that suggests we can generate ideas and solutions to crises on our own if we are just creative and innovative enough or if we have collected enough data. Walter Brueggemann outlines the prophetic tasks of the church in such a time this as the need to “tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”

I can but speculate on what specific illusions, denials, and despairs a lamentation of COVID-19 will dismantle though it is clear that, like HIV & AIDS, this pandemic is disproportionally impacting the poorest. That will become clear in time and there will be prophets who will deeply disrupt our privileges and entitlements. The only question is whether we will have ears to hear the Spirit that anoints them.

What I do know is that this prophetic practice is central to the Easter story. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday with a wondrous, packed, city celebration that is also an illusion that the Messiah would be violent, that the way of the world would be the way out of disparity. It ends with an execution and overwhelming despair.

“If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere” is the line from Seamus Heaney doing the rounds in Ireland at the moment as a motivation and inspiration. The suggestion is that the return to ‘normal’ life will be one big party. But Winter into Summer is not merely the linear progress of time with systemic fault lines left intact. It requires and demands death and rebirth. That dying includes the public acknowledgement of loss, of grief and of hope. Such public acknowledgement will come easier to some countries and communities than others.

So what must we do now? Well of course lament, take from the richness of the scriptures, from Psalms and prophecy that point us to the heart of God.

But also turn up, or at least honour those who are tasked with carrying the burden of turning up. Both of our pandemics are overwhelming. Simple acts of presence and patience can be the most profound, though now seriously limited. As we approach Easter I am struck by the women bringing spices to the tomb on the Sunday morning. Despair had not completely overwhelmed them and their tiny flicker of hope is expressed through the seemingly mundane work of physically caring for the corpse beyond the city walls. The stone is rolled away, not just to make room for Jesus’s exit (such an opening was not necessary) but to make room for the womens’ lowest of roles to be stunningly elevated, through an angelic encounter, to that of Apostles to the Apostles. Maybe the present crisis will lead us to a radical readjustment of what roles are valued in society, of where wealth is distributed and of how we care for those most vulnerable. We can only hope.

Richard Carson is ACET Ireland’s  CEO.

 

 

 UPDATE 3rd April – Holding multiple realities in tension every day.

Our work continues remotely with phone, text and Zoom (for team meetings) our main ways of communicating.

The mutuality of ‘Drinking from the Same Cup’ lies at the heart of our work but now we have to do it from a distance. It is a daily challenge as the physical connection we form with those we support at a kitchen table or a community café really matters. As individuals and families affected by HIV see increased anxiety and fear each day, our staff are there with reassuring words, practical supports and a listening ear.

We continue to keep faith communities including churches informed on both pandemics, including with the HSE resources. Again, information itself is only a fragment of our work and tells an incomplete story. It is the richness of faith, hope and love in action in that unites us.

ACET’s staff are defined as essential workers under the government’s latest guidelines so are allowed travel away from home. However we have been asked to keep any visits, even if delivering essential items, to an absolute minimum so as to follow the public health imperative of reducing the transmission of the virus. We will be using centralised resources, including our local authorities’ initiatives and HSE-funded partners, where we can.

Global inequality is at the heart of this pandemic. We are praying for our supported projects in Zimbabwe where the health infrastructure is completely unequipped for the impact of COVID-19.

Please stand with us at this difficult time for all. Thank you for all your support.

UPDATE 27th March – We are now responding to two pandemics

All our staff and volunteers continue to work remotely while staying in touch with one another via Zoom meetings. We are grateful for one another, our funders and your support.

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Where can I test for HIV?


Where can I test for HIV?

ACET’s new rapid HIV testing service is free, confidential and the result is available within 60 seconds. Contact us at 018787700 or text HTS to 0868374350 to arrange a test.

We have a range of people ready to offer testing and we can come to your faith community, ethnic association or other settings with workshops on HIV which help those we work alongside to understand the changed reality of HIV and how together we can challenge HIV-related stigma.

Rapid HIV testing in the community is just one way to access the test. For a broader picture across the country. head over to the Free HIV & STI Testing Locator Map from our friends at HIV Ireland.

All these testing sites across the island of Ireland offer free and confidential testing. Some require an appointment to be made, some are walk-in. Most offer rapid testing with immediate results.

If you are living with HIV this test can lead you to the life-saving treatment which means you cannot pass it on. Across Ireland in our towns, villages, cities, colleges, workplace, places of worship, sports clubs and more, there are people living with HIV. They are living healthy lives yet still often experience much of the stigma associated with the virus. Contact us to see how we can work together to overcome this stigma.

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Mind the Gap – Report Launch

We were delighted to welcome a wonderful group of HIV activists, social workers, medical professionals, faith leaders, surveillance specialists, community workers and many more to the launch of Mind the Gap – our report on the low uptake of HIV testing among Black African people in Ireland.

Ifedinma Dimbo presented the findings which explored the role of the HIV=death narrative in the memories of black-African people in Ireland. She also explained the ways in which those we interviewed perceive illness and the cultural barriers at work when assuming health checks are embraced in the same way by all people. Ifedinma also highlighted the powerful impact of stigma and how it plays out through secrecy and privacy in black African communities.

ACET CEO, Richard Carson explained how the findings impact ACET’s own project on awareness and testing with faith communities and then led a discussion on integration in Ireland which challenged those present to de-centre the White-Irish assumptions which shape so much of the work in this area.

To download and read the report click below or email us at dublin@acet.ie to receive a hard copy in the post.

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Rapid HIV Testing – Coming to you


1st December is World AIDS Day and the global theme is “Know your Status.” A finger-prick 60 second test is all it takes if you are unsure of your HIV status. Head over to this Testing Locator by our friends HIV Ireland to find your nearest venue.

ACET Ireland is launching a new HIV awareness and testing initiative for faith communities on World AIDS Day, Saturday 1st December. This is a day when we remember the many millions who have died in the global pandemic and recognise our role in responding to the current challenges. With over 1,000 people living with HIV in Ireland undiagnosed and rates of late diagnosis among the highest in Western Europe it is vital that HIV testing is brought to where people are at.

ACET’s project involves free, confidential and rapid HIV tests being offered to faith communities around the country. However barriers to testing are not merely understood in terms of access or availability. They are also about the complexities of culture, expectation, place, secrecy and much more. For Christians our faith in Jesus must interact with all these realities. These are issues ACET are eager to get stuck into as part of our work supporting local churches. With highly trained staff our workshops, discussions and supports do more than just offer a test, they encourage congregations and their leaders to engage with the challenges of integration, of diversity and of mission. 

HIV treatment is now so effective that if a person is adhering to their medicine and have what is called an ‘undetectable load’ of the virus (as is the case for almost all who adhere) then sexual transmission to another person is impossible. This is called U=U,  Undetectable = Untransmittable,  and is changing the story of HIV. The UK has seen a 28% decrease in HIV diagnoses over the past two years in part as a result of the impact of treatment as prevention. Ireland is still yet to turn this corner. Testing, therefore, plays a vital role.

“We are bringing rapid HIV testing but we are bringing much more than that. New realities of the impact of HIV treatment completely transforms people’s perspective of the story of the virus.” said ACET CEO, Richard Carson. “Most of our work is with migrant-led and multicultural churches. We must engage our testing with deeper discussions on what integration means so that we can truly listen well to one another,” stated ACET Researcher Ifedinma Dimbo whose work on migrants’ interactions with the Irish health service shows startling gaps and opportunities for improvement

For more information on this project contact ACET at dublin@acet.ie

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Barriers to HIV testing for migrants in Ireland

Ifedinma Dimbo has stepped off our Board of Trustees to join our staff team as a researcher.

Ifedinma in Barcelona.

Ifedinma will be asking the question “How can we overcome barriers to HIV testing for African migrants in Ireland?” Drawing from her expertise as a PhD candidate in UCC and her work on migrant experiences of our health system, Ifedinma is looking forward to getting stuck into the challenges of the research.

She hit the ground running when gaining a place on the M-Care project of the European AIDS Treatment Group which draws 20 activists and practitioners on HIV and migrants from across the continent for shared learning. Her first session with M-Care was in Barcelona in March; she will be in Frankfurt in May and in Warsaw in July.

M-Care group at their first session in Barcelona.

 

 

 

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Quilt Group: Here and Now, after 25 Years

The quilt group is now in its 25th year. Some of the members are from the original core group — a testimony to the fact that this gathering continues to be relevant in today’s society.

It started in an effort to immortalise those who had been lost to HIV-related illness in the Rialto Crumlin area. As this was very challenging, the group also took time to address hope issues.

New Projects:

Recently the group created some cushions from items, such as a beloved jacket, belonging to those whom were lost. Again, making these was very emotional but we felt that it was a healing project to be involved in.

Presently we are producing a quilt with all the names of those who have died, a fitting memorial to celebrate 25 years.

The journey we undertook 25 years ago was not a certain one, but as it evolved it became clear that this group formed part of bereavement support for families in this area. We will continue to work making quilts as long as it is necessary and supportive to those who grieve.

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U = U

Health News: In 2017, leading global health bodies confirmed that when it comes to HIV, Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U).

This means that if a person has an undetectable viral load (linked to adherence to their medication) then sexual transmission of HIV is impossible, even if a condom is not used.

In education and training sessions, the enormity of U=U is starting to hit home. How we communicate risk and perceived risk to a group has radically changed. Those living with HIV are no longer, necessarily, the focus of attention. When it comes to transmission risk our energies have shifted to those who are unaware of their status as opposed to those who are aware and taking control of their health. This redefining and refocussing is exciting and opens up a new chapter in approaching the end of the pandemic.

Yet, I have been reflecting on why it takes a medical advance and the concrete realities of transmission for us to be enthused in affirming the positive status of those living with HIV in our midst. In the Bible it says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” People living with HIV have always carried a dignity and identity as image bearers of God. Treatment advances do not necessitate that truth from being real.  It was always there and it has always called us to live in resistance to the stigma that so many encounter.

 

Image: Prevention Access Campaign

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The new face of care work

Recently, referrals for care support have become more culturally dynamic and diverse.

While migrant clients represent a small percentage of ACETs overall client group, working with HIV and health management is layered with many complexities. ACET’s care team acknowledge the additional nuances associated with a migration story:

  • language barriers
  • cultural differences
  • limited knowledge of local community and social structures.

While medication adherence and clinic attendance tend to be consistent, migrant clients often discuss negative experiences and fears of disclosure, stigma, racism and segregation from their local community.

Unique challenges

Clients who are undocumented or living in direct provision experience further challenges associated with marginalisation and lack of education and employment opportunities. This is often combined with a concern about accepting support from external organisations and becoming identifiable and risking deportation. Finding appropriate working spaces for care support can be challenging when clients are living in direct provision centers or overcrowded homes on the outskirts of communities. Often clients are unable to travel as a result of limited finances and lack of childcare, further isolating them from necessary supports.

ACET sometimes only support

While some clients have made positive steps towards education, work and integration and have opportunities associated with being granted leave to remain or citizenship, others continue to face significant barriers associated with their undocumented status. The care team, sometimes the only support, continue to develop their understanding of the impact of the migration process and sensitively engage with clients on care plans which are reflective of ever-changing circumstances and support needs.

 

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Culture and Faith in the North East Inner City

In March, 30 leaders and representatives of a broad range of faith communities and faith-based organisations from Dublin’s North East Inner City gathered together to explore their shared past, present and future. Led by the partnership of ACET Ireland and Dublin City Interfaith Forum, the group were inspired in their conversations and new connections by the inputs of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Micheál Mac Donncha, Fr. Peter McVerry and Salome Mbugua of Akidwa.

Peter McVerry’s comments struck a particular chord as he encouraged those attending to “spend your week demonstrating the dignity of all, which is declared at your worship services on the weekend.” Those weekly activities include supporting asylum seekers and refugees, addressing unemployment, international development, community development, youth work, prison work, responding to addiction, homelessness and HIV, education, leadership development, supporting migrant women, working with travellers, encouraging the creative arts and much more.

“This is a great opportunity to establish a positive framework for interfaith work in this local community of rich diversity and significance,” commented Adrian Cristea of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum.

“For some faith communities and organisations there is little connection with the area in which they worship and operate. Our hope is that this event will start to change that,” stated Richard Carson of ACET Ireland.

Cover Photo: Fr. Michael Casey (Salesians, Our Lady of Lourdes, Sean McDermott St), Br. Pat Geraghty (Christian Brothers, North Richmond Street), Michael O’Sullivan (Columbans, Store Street).

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Micheál Mac Donncha.

Fr Peter McVerry addresses the group.

Salome Mbugua of Akidwa addressed the need for positive integration of migrant in Ireland and the role faith communities can play at a local level. “To make integration happen we must work in solidarity. We must move beyond words and create opportunities for everyone.”

Joe Kerrigan (Trinity Church Network, Gardiner Street), Philip McKinley (Discovery Gospel Choir, Cathal Brugha St), Dave Gardner (Urban Soul/Street Pastors).

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