There are various ways to make a difference no matter how small the ideas are.
I WAS properly introduced to the HIV/AIDS awareness cause when I participated in the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in 1997 when Kuala Lumpur hosted it.
Learning about the issue, meeting people living with HIV and realising what an important cause it was, gave me the impetus to rally my college mates in 1999 to host a charity performance using World AIDS Day (held annually on Dec 1) as a theme. I was lucky that the college was supportive of my efforts.
Since then, I have marked the day in different ways trying to contribute my time and effort. In 2000, I volunteered to hand out red ribbons with the Western Australian AIDS Council while studying in Perth.
While working at various publications, including this one, I always tried to write a related article or put together a special edition publication — such as the ones in The Star’s R.AGE which twice won the Malaysian AIDS Council Red Ribbon Award.
On the occasion where I did not have the opportunity to do something through work or volunteering, I found other ways. In 2002, I made red ribbon after red ribbon which I left on my colleagues tables with a small note telling them about HIV/AIDS awarenes. I also took to my blog and later, social media networks, to address the issue.
Since 2010, I have been lucky enough to have been invited to be part of campaigns where I lend my name and face to the cause.
In 2010, I joined over 42 local personalities — including Datuk Sheila Majid, Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina, Elaine Daly and more as part of the AIDSAware campaign.
Last year, and again this year, I joined Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Altimet, Danny One and other personalities as part of Durex’s #SomebodyLikeMe campaign (http://somebodylikeme.my) to get people talking about safe sex.
All three campaigns are in aid of PT Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has been working on the cause since 1987.
It has been a privilege to have access to the platforms I listed above — including this column — to talk about a cause that has been dear to me for so many years.
In fact, it is not just HIV/AIDS. Over the past couple of years, I have found myself working on numerous social projects including #Fast4Malaysia, #SayaMahuPicnic and 50x50 My Malaysia. Along the way, I have met many people who tell me how lucky I am to be in a position to do things.
Some of them have told me that they would like to do more but do not know how and where to start. Others lament that some of their projects only exist within their small communities.
While I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with high-profile personalities and organisations who give some of my projects more leverage, I am also aware that not everything has to be in a big scale to make a different. And so I tell them this.
From my experience alone, it all started with a bit of volunteering and finding ways to involve the communities I have access to; back in 1999, it was my fellow college mates.
There are many ways in which to get involved in causes you believe in and to make things happen. The few events I mentioned earlier were basically the product of small conversations with like-minded friends who felt that we need to do something to address a particular issue.
With #SayaMahuPicnic, it was the tensions following the 13th General Election, #Fast4Malaysia was the increasing racial and religious sentiments in our country last year and 50x50 gave me the opportunity to drown out a bit of the negativity on social media with positive stories.
I am also reminded of a conversation I had with an old friend Claire, who approached me a couple of months ago to help her with the breast cancer support community she had founded using Facebook. Over the past few years, it has grown to have thousands of members.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, she created a video titled This breast cancer survivor is someone you know (http://bit.ly/clairevideo) for that community.
It was that conversation that lead me wanting to write this piece.
Claire had wanted to reach out to more people who needed support and was looking for ways in which she could do this online. And as she told me about the things she had done — I had not known about it before — I felt so inspired to continue doing some of the work I do because it reminded me that the cliché everyone can play a part is completely true.
Judging from how Claire’s community has grown, it is obvious that her little effort has touched the lives of thousands. It was only a small idea but for many people, that has made all the difference.
As I mark World AIDS Day this year with this article, I would like to acknowledge the many people who have tirelessly worked on getting the world to HIV zero — and the other people working on the hundreds and thousands of equally important causes that are close to their hearts.
Niki is grateful to the many people who has supported him over the years that allows him to work on causes close to his heart. Connect with him online at http://blog.nikicheong.com or via Facebook at http://bit.ly/nikicheong.