Toronto’s Asian Community AIDS Service is a staple to the people it serves. ACAS strives to provide holistic, comprehensive help to those in the Asian-Canadian community who, in some way or another, have had their lives shaped by HIV. With its participation in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge coming up on Oct 18, 2015, ACAS hopes to remind people that the support it offers is vital and that many people rely on the services it runs.
Andrew Miao has worked with ACAS since 2011 as a support program coordinator — though he started volunteering with ACAS in 2008 — and has worked directly with East and Southeast Asian Torontonians living with HIV and their friends, families and partners. Together with Jenny Cheng, who manages the women’s support program, Miao provides care and assistance at every step along the way, and both Miao and Cheng make themselves available by phone to their clients 24 hours a day, in case of emergencies.
They offer emotional support, create community spaces for those who have recently contracted the virus or are grieving the loss of loved ones to the disease, or simply provide an ear for those who just need someone to talk to.
Miao also works to provide his clients with practical support. This includes accompanying them to appointments for employment, housing and medical care, assisting them with accessing financial assistance and providing interpretation services for those who cannot speak English.
In addition to the HIV support groups, ACAS also runs a youth program that provides crucial support to a younger generation. The youth program strives not only to educate, but to empower youth to become peer educators — an important step in mitigating the social stigma HIV still carries.
However, the youth program needs help to stay afloat. “The funding was cut by the city of Toronto,” Miao says. “Young people need a place to go to talk about prevention, their sexual identity.”
As government funding dries up, ACAS must rely on fundraising from the community — that’s why the Scotiabank Charity Challenge is an important opportunity to raise awareness.