Hi all! I am Karin van der Velde and I work for the sex work team at Aidsfonds and have been doing so since April. That work also involves activities for the Bridging the Gaps programme. This is my first trip abroad since joining Aidsfonds. I’m in Abidjan to attend ICASA,  the biggest AIDS conference in Africa which takes place this year in Abidjan from 4 – 9 December. Do you want to know how a first-timer experiences such a big conference on the African continent? Then this blog is for you.

Linking & learning before the conference

Together with ten sex worker (led) partner organisations we had a great meeting before the conference started. We exchanged about how to work with the police in a positive way, saddening numbers of violence against sex workers in the Netherlands were presented and we tried to map potential funding opportunities.

Meanwhile at the airport…

In the meantime two other Aidsfonds colleagues had been trying to get a hold of the shipping company with the materials for our booth for the conference.  The materials were stuck at the wrong airport and it would not be until Tuesday afternoon that we would actually have all our materials on site, finally ready to set up our booth. We expect high phone bills from all our calls with the people in charge of shipping..

The serious conference rooms

The conference takes place in an incredibly large hotel. There are long halls with marble floors, and I have never seen such a big swimming pool in my life as it surrounds the entirety of the hotel. In the conference rooms the atmosphere is serious and academic. Speakers come from far to present their work. Sometimes translations are a bit of a challenge; if you’re a fellow SRHR colleague you know how much jargon flies around and the translators can’t always keep up. It is not an easy job, as many people in the audience don’t speak French.

When you walk through the hotel and on the grounds, you see the many different faces of this continent. What surprised me was that a lot of people have custom made dresses and shirts with the ICASA logo and fabric. I have rarely seen so much colorful wear on a conference, it has been so refreshing! I’m writing this while wearing a dark grey dress… maybe I should change that..

The lively Community Village

In the Community Village the atmosphere is more alive and energetic. People from all communities and particularly key populations are present and vocal, from drug users, to sex workers, to LGBTI+ people. In the tent there is always loud music playing, people dancing, and all organizations have colorful booths to display the work that they are proud of. I have seen more condoms than I can count! I have been mainly standing at the Aidsfonds booth, which also showcases a Bridging the Gaps story. I have talked to people from so many different countries, from Cameroon, to Alegeria, to Barkina Faso, to all other corners of Africa. It is so good to see all these faces of activism!

I hope this little blog has given you a little bit of insight into the world of an African AIDS conference. I heartily recommend everyone to visit one to get a feel of the atmosphere. I would normally close this with my name Karin, but since someone today was convinced my name was Carrot, I’m going with that instead.

Thanks for reading!

Carrot.