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Wednesday 08 October 2008


Candlelight: A remembrance, and a celebration

Posted in: Events, HIV
By Matt Akersten - 13th May 2008

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This Sunday across New Zealand and around the world, communities will meet to remember and celebrate the lives of those lost to HIV/AIDS.

In 2008, the international theme of the event is Never Give Up, Never Forget, and seven New Zealand cities - Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill - will mark the date with Candlelight Memorial services in the evening.

After a downturn in numbers in the early 2000's, Auckland's annual Candlelight event has attracted more people in recent years, as organisers have listened to community feedback and enriched Candlelight with uplifting performances and an inclusive outlook.

"I don't like the word 'Memorial' - it conjures up thoughts of the church and religion," explains Auckland Candlelight organiser Wayne Otter. "What I have tended to do, particularly in the last few years, is turn it more into a celebration and remembrance."

"That's not downplaying, but celebrating people's lives. People do move on - but sometimes at birthdays, anniversaries and days like this, we all can recall something."

Otter, who works full-time with the impacts of HIV/AIDS in central Auckland's testing and counselling Burnett Centre, has been working with the Candlelight event for the last dozen years. "I've lost people close to me as the years have gone by. Even before HIV was named, in the mid-'80s," he says.

"Over the years we've tried many venues. We used to be in St. Matthews, and then we were in outside venues such as the Domain's Botanical Gardens, and for a couple of years we were at Western Springs' Circle of Friends garden. But the overwhelming thing we heard from people - particularly at this time of year - was that it was 'bloody cold'! And it is logistically difficult to do it in outside venues - for lighting, protection and sound.

"So attendance was dropping off a little," Otter admits. "When we moved it back to St. Matthews a few years ago, it was a little bit quiet, but numbers have increased again in the last couple of years.

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Drag entertainers at last year's Candlelight
"It's also now a multicultural event - we've got Maori, Pacific Island, Africa, and others - because the virus has changed. The highest numbers with HIV here in New Zealand are still men who have sex with men, but there are many others with the virus."

The organiser is aware that the church venue might put a few people off, and so is quick to stress that Candlelight is not a religious service.

"People might be worried about entering a church - but St. Matthews in the City has always been all-inclusive. They also have Opera, plays, dinner, blessings of the animals, and many other events."

Like the six other events that evening around New Zealand, Auckland's Candlelight will include music, short speeches, an opportunity for individuals to share names of departed loved ones, and 'the lighting of the candles'.

The event will begin with the presentation of a DVD showing two women, Marama and Rose both women living with HIV, and their journey through the slums of Kibera in Kenya.

Appearing at Candlelight in St. Matthew's will be the Gay and Lesbian Singers, Cellist Andrea Mundy, Flautist Melody Lin, the Taste of Africa group and even Hawaiian Hula dancers.

"This year we're also putting a tree in St. Matthews where people can put loved ones names on it," says Otter.

After the ceremony, the Auckland Community Church will conduct a service primarily for gay, lesbian and transgender people, which anyone is invited to stay for if they wish.

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Candlelight Memorial services will be held on Sunday 18th May 2008 at the following locations. For further information, contact New Zealand's Candlelight coordinater Eamonn Smythe via email at eamonn.smythe@nzaf.org.nz .

Auckland – 6.30pm at St Matthew in the City

Hamilton – 7pm at the University of Waikato Chapel

Tauranga – Memorial Park Fountain (cancelled on 15 May 2008)

Wellington – 6.30pm at the Ilott Theatre, Town Hall

Christchurch – 7pm at the Art Centre Great Hall

Dunedin - 7pm at the St Paul's Cathedral, Octagon

Invercargill – 6pm at Bluff Hill.



Matt Akersten - 13th May 2008