The first story from ACET Ireland’s new book Drinking from the Same Cup comes from Terrie:
Terrie Colman-Black founded ACET Ireland’s care project in 1992. She continues to work with care clients, including the Quilt Group, and provides support to the wider care staff team.
The beginning 20 years ago seems so far away now. Thinking back, it reads like a story: one made up of individual stories with many characters, events and chapters. To put it into perspective, it is important to look at the history of HIV as 20 years ago it was a particularly difficult time for those involved. During the 1980’s the pandemic had swept throughout the world and the words and images of the time were just a series of negatives. There was no cure, vaccine or medication which would stem the onslaught of the virus. In its wake people suffered intolerably, not only from the effects of the disease but from the discrimination which accompanied a diagnosis. Fear was rampant and those who were infected or affected lived in a world of isolation.
By the time ACET opened its doors in London in 1988 and began to show compassion in care, thousands had already died in isolation. The Dublin story was no different. For many years I had been saddened by repeated reports of discrimination in my own city. However, many agencies were springing up to come to the assistance of those who were affected. My original plan was to get involved in a project linked to the Shanti project which I had enormous respect for. They offered one to one support almost like a friendship; I liked that idea, but what I liked even more was that ACET was a faith based organisation which offered not only care, but education in an effort to stem the flow of infections. The care offered was unconditional and support was driven by the faith stories of individuals who put caring into action.
During the following years I learned patience. I spent the time training, researching, and constantly banging on the door of ACET and imploring them to open in Dublin. Finally, in 1990, things began to change. ACET opened in Northern Ireland and I knew Dublin had to be next. I first met their Director Gary in a Dublin train station and neither of us realized what a monumental meeting that was to be in the history of the organisation. During this time I also met Vivienne: she had the same passion for education which I had for care. As the story continued we waited, prayed, hoped, dreamed and watched in despair as the virus spread through the city. Many young people died: it seemed like an endless wait, but we never lost hope. Funding was a problem — some things never change. Our conviction led us to believe it would happen. All the time we continued to implore London to assist us to open. Finally in early 1992 we were given IR£378 and the go ahead. What a start that proved to be: we spent months recruiting and training volunteers, meeting with agencies and funders and sometimes even begging for support. We faced many obstacles apart from funding: so many people lacked compassion; others saw us as a threat. However, the three of us never flinched and we began to meet many amazing people who joined us on our journey. We finally launched the project in the Ormond Hotel. It was a simple affair but a hugely significant one. We were ready: we had done the groundwork, our volunteers were trained and now we needed to wait for client referrals. We did not have to wait long. By Christmas both the care and education services were being utilized. You could say the rest is history, but what a history.
For the next twenty years the story unfolded. Nothing could have prepared us for what happened. How could we have ever envisioned the endless dark days when clients died one after the other? How could we have ever known what it was like to face endless isolation, discrimination, hopelessness, nights and days in hospitals, and attending funerals? We walked side by side in this world of despair but we never lost hope that one day it would change. For those reading this who do not know the story of HIV, rest assured it did all change as new drugs to combat and slow down the virus came out of endless research and people began to live with HIV.
But the story of the past twenty years could not be told without mention of those we met along the way, too numerous to mention and most of whom want to remain anonymous, but all committed to our memory. There were those who showed enormous courage in the face of adversity, those who made us laugh, and those who we cried with, those who touched our soul and are so important as we reflect on our story. They are all stories within our story but these stories help to make the organisation what it is to-day as it stands alongside the other agencies working in Dublin, and one which will continue to offer a service as long as that service is required.
Looking back on it all now it was the story of an incredible journey, not an easy one but one which I felt personally compelled to embark on. Those of you who journeyed with me understand just what an enormous 20 year journey it was and it seems the journey continues: what is next? There are many more chapters to be written in this story.