Nova Scotia

Calling all knitters — the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia needs your help

The AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia is launching its first Red Scarf Project in Halifax and is looking for volunteer knitters to help the cause.

Red scarves will be tied around lamp posts, fences in Halifax to mark World AIDS Day on Dec. 1

The Red Scarf Project was originally launched in Ontario in 2012. In 2015, the project was held for the first time in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (Jennifer Ludlow/CBC)

The AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia is launching its first Red Scarf Project in Halifax and is looking for volunteer knitters to help the cause.

The Red Scarf Project, which has been adopted across Canada, aims to raise awareness about HIV treatment and prevention, how the virus affects people and what still needs to be done.

"We have a lot of catching up to do," said Chris Aucoin, the executive director of the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia.

"Doing something like the Red Scarf Project is a way of trying to re-engage the public by saying, 'Hey, this [virus] is still here. It's still a big deal, but it's not the big deal it used to be."

Aucoin said HIV has "been off the public's radar for a long time" because organizations like the coalition haven't had the funding or resources for awareness campaigns.

"In the absence of that, we have also not been able to combat the stigma that has existed since the beginning of the AIDS crisis," he said.

The AIDS crisis began in the 1980s and largely affected men who have sex with men and people who use injection drugs. 

At the time, not much was known about the potentially life-threatening virus and how it was spread, creating a stigma around the virus that has lasted decades.

But Aucoin said the virus is now controllable and can be effectively treated. It can even become undetectable with proper medication, meaning it can't be spread.

Aucoin said the stigma would start to diminish if more people knew that.

"Most of the stigma that came was based on fear," he said. "It was based on misinformation and a lot of the fear and misinformation is still out there, so we're trying to challenge that."

By challenging that fear and misinformation, he said it would become easier for people to seek out testing, treatment and resources without feeling ashamed.

Members of the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia are seen in this submitted file photo: Jennifer Flynn, the Red Scarf Project co-ordinator, left, Dylan Samson, the coalition's support co-ordinator, middle, and Chris Aucoin, the coalition's executive director. (AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia)

Aucoin said that's why he's launching the Red Scarf Project in Halifax.

The coalition will tie red scarves around fences and lamp posts in the downtown area on Dec. 1 — World AIDS Day — to look like oversized AIDS awareness ribbons.

This is why the coalition is looking for people who knit and crochet to donate scarves.

"It's a recognizable symbol and it's something we can put out in the public domain so people can encounter it, and the message attached to it might make them think and it might teach them something that they didn't know before," he said. 

"I liked the simplicity of this approach and hopefully it works and we have an impact."

Aucoin said each scarf will include a message about the reality of HIV in 2021, including information about infection prevention, testing and available resources. 

The scarves will be free for anyone to take but Aucoin hopes the scarves will go to people who need them, while others just take in the message about the virus.

"We'll try to keep the messages very simple and accessible, but also address the questions we think might exist in people's minds or to address the issues that might not be in people's minds, but we think they should be aware of," he said.

Aucoin said the coalition had a soft launch of the project last month, which has already sparked interest from individual volunteers and several knitting groups across Nova Scotia.

Still, the group is looking for more knitters and crocheters to help out over the next two weeks.

Aucoin said the coalition would like to have between 100-150 red scarves to put up in downtown Halifax. People can also donate red yarn or lightly used, clean scarves.

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