Ankali volunteers get together (from the Ankali Facebook page)
The Ankali Project was established in 1985 to provide emotional and social support to people who were living with, and dying of AIDS.
In the early days, the service involved volunteers attending hospices and funerals. Although our volunteers still support clients in hospices and through the end of their lives, fortunately, it is less and less common these days. With the advent of improvements in medications and healthcare, volunteers now accompany people living differently and living well with HIV.
What remains the same between then and now is that volunteers still provide social and emotional support, and that this support is still important and needed. The service has therefore changed over the years but continues to honour the foundation upon which it was developed.
During 2020 we all learned to live with the impact of COVID-19, learning about hand hygiene, QR codes, social distancing, and isolation. What some of our clients tell us is that while social distancing and isolation were new and interesting experiences for some, for others social distancing and isolation have been long-standing and difficult experiences.
While HIV has changed in that people’s health has improved, our volunteers still show care for clients, beyond their status and viral load.
At the Ankali Project, health and wellbeing include emotional, mental, and social health. One of our Psychology colleagues describes Ankali Project volunteers, saying
“The work that volunteers do is invaluable to our clients. Volunteers can do things with and for our clients, and share things that health professionals can’t, which is to show them that they belong, and are cared for.”
Clients and volunteers have regular contact on a weekly to fortnightly basis. They catch up for coffee, go for walks, visit galleries, and have found new and novel ways to keep in touch, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During lockdown periods in 2020, clients and volunteers had phone or video chats, watched movies together but remotely with screen sharing, and had ‘book club’ discussions about books they’d read.
One client fed back to us what volunteer support means to him.
“I’m so glad I met my volunteer. We just joke and laugh, and I get to forget that I’m separate from everyone because I’m gay, or [HIV] positive.”
Volunteers join the Ankali Project for a range of reasons: to connect with community of people living with HIV and others affected by HIV, to support the LGBTIQ community, for social justice values, personal development, or relevance to their career interests.
One volunteer tells us what he gets out of volunteering:
“I’m glad that my support helps [my client] but it works for me too. In the volunteer training we learned about how to be a sounding board for a client, with emphasis on practicing active listening and non-judgement. I think those skills are just good life skills and catching up with my client gives me great opportunity to practice them.”
Another volunteer shares what volunteering brings to his life:
“The last year has been hard for me, losing my job, and then having to move from the unit I’ve lived in for years. Volunteering here saved me in that time. Seeing my client and keeping in contact with other volunteers kept me going so that I wasn’t just at home, navel gazing and feeling sorry for myself.”
The Ankali Project supports volunteers through training, peer support, education opportunities, and social events. In 2020, we were acknowledged by the Centre for Volunteering, the peak body for volunteering in NSW. With over 123,000 nominations for the award, it was the Ankali Project that won volunteer team of the year for Sydney’s East.
For both clients and volunteers, the Ankali Project is about inclusion, care, community, diversity, and support. People of all backgrounds are welcome to volunteer. People living with HIV are welcome to seek support here, whether as a client, or as a volunteer that provides support to others. To find out more about us or to join as a client or volunteer, call our team at (02) 9332 9742, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Tiffany Tran
Tiffany is a social worker with The Ankali Project at The Albion Centre.
Published in Talkabout #195 February 2021