World AIDS Day (December 1) is less than a month away! One of our many World AIDS Day activities will be our participation in a Second Life (SL) 2008 World AIDS Day event. As we mentioned in a previous post about SL, virtual worlds can be an effective way to reach people with HIV resources and information. Thanks to a generous grant from the National Library of Medicine, the Alliance Library System (which also developed Health Info Island ) will open a brand new SL island on World AIDS Day. That island will be dedicated to HIV/AIDS education, outreach, and support.
In preparation for the SL event, we sat down (in SL, of course) with two of the event’s organizers, Ricken Flow (Rick Davis in the real world) and Jenaia Morane (Jena Ball in real life). Rick and Jena are both doing HIV work in SL and told us a bit about their experiences.
Rick said, “What surprised me most [about SL] is how close it is to real life. You have jobs, a commerce system, hospitals, grocery stores, architects, schools, etc.” He also told us that, unfortunately, real-life stigma around HIV translates into stigma in SL.
When Rick added his HIV status to his SL profile and received negative comments from other SL members, he realized that “People in virtual worlds need education and support just like in real life.” That’s when he decided to start an HIV/AIDS support group in SL. The group meets monthly and has over 60 members, 10 of whom meet regularly. Rick said, “The most exciting thing is having a presence so that people can ask questions about HIV, and feel comfortable talking about it, when they would never be able to do that in real life.” He also told us, “SL gives people living with AIDS who have physical limitations an opportunity to feel they are a part of a community and a support network.”
As founder of the HIV/AIDS Support Group, Rick was invited to speak at last year’s SL World AIDS Day event. This year, he volunteered to coordinate SL’s events, which include a World AIDS Day Musical Festival on November 30. On December 1, there will be a day-long event, including these activities:
- Pathfinder Linden will present on the importance of virtual reality in promoting health education, outreach, community support, and global activism.
- Miguel Gomez and Michelle Samplin-Salgado, from the AIDS.gov team, will present on using new media in response to HIV/AIDS and on the new CDC HIV incidence data.
- There will be tours of Karuna , the new island in SL dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and outreach.
- Jena will offer writing workshops where people can come and tell their stories about HIV/AIDS.
- SL will offer special displays and information about HIV/AIDS, including virtual AIDS ribbons and t-shirts.
- There will be virtual dance and live performances. (Rick told us, “SL has some amazing singers and musicians who perform live through streaming technology.”)
- The day’s events will conclude with a candle-lighting ceremony.
According to Jena, “The World AIDS Day events in SL are an opportunity to help those who are dealing with HIV/AIDS find an international community of support and resources.” She continued, “Because SL is three-dimensional and global, it allows for meaningful interpersonal interactions in real time that simply aren’t available in chat rooms or other venues – interactions that are desperately needed when someone is dealing with HIV/AIDS.”
In addition to the many virtual and real life events planned for World AIDS Day, at AIDS.gov we’re planning several other new media activities, such as the Facing AIDS Campaign. Our next three blog posts will highlight these activities and include information on how you can get involved. Stay tuned for next week’s post on our Bloggers Unite on World AIDS Day event!
In the meantime, let us know if you’re in SL—we’d love to connect with you!