By Christine Mangan
Supporters of The Banyan Tree Program gathered May 19 to help celebrate National Asian/Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
Asia now has the 2nd highest rate of HIV infection in the world. The Banyan Tree Program, a part of Asian Human Services, was created to improve awareness and help fight the stigma of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
Speakers at this year's event came from both medical and religious backgrounds. They addressed the crowd about the importance of continuing to improve HIV/AIDS awareness in the Asian community. Christopher Brown, Assistant Commissioner for STD/HIV/AIDS Programs at the Chicago Department of Public Health, spoke about the importance of such programs as The Banyan Tree. He concluded his speech by applauding the efforts of everyone involved, and encouraged them to continue on the same path.
This year's winner of the 2nd Annual Banyan Tree essay contest, Jacob Chacko, also took the stage. Reading from his winning essay about living as a gay Asian man with HIV, Chacko concluded by announcing his goal to become a Spanish teacher. At the end, he was presented with his prizes: a certificate, t-shirt and check for $200.
The ceremony was followed by live music, including two traditional Pilipino ballads, and free HIV and Hepatitis testing.
Indigenous to the Asian Continent, the Banyan Tree is a symbol of inner peace and harmony; it is a place where many wandering travelers have found shelter. Similar to its namesake, The Banyan Tree Program strives to create a supportive environment for those living with HIV/AIDS.