My name is Tom Samuels and in my search for a place of acceptance, in respect of my status, my journey has become easier by reflecting on resilience and optimism.

As World AIDS day approaches the season moves towards festivity with trees being sought and bought amid discussions about real or artificial, green, silver or gold and how shall we adorn them. We’re surrounded by images of sparkle, tinsel and urged to be jolly. I’m not going to get ‘bah humbug’ and maudlin on you, I promise, but there is another way of bringing a tree into your life that might just engender positive emotions for more than 12 days.

The ‘Tree of Life’ is a therapeutic intervention developed in Africa by a child psychologist, Ncazelo Ncube, who worked in collaboration with David Denborough of the Dulwich Centre in Australia.

It was initially designed to be used with children and young people but is now widely used with adults too, particularly with people who have experienced trauma, loss, stigmatisation and marginalisation. So, you can see how this tree might well resonate with those of us who are HIV positive, and I will remain positive on this subject. The tree is a metaphor to help people re-story their lives, identify their strengths and abilities, hopes and dreams, reconnect with their roots and relationships and think about the ‘storms of life’ from a position of strength. It offers a powerful role in counteracting problem-saturated stories and gives voice to the strengths, values, hopes and dreams of participants.

With this different type of tree I can branch out. Rather than being an HIV positive sob-story I have the ability to overturn traditional doom and gloom views by challenging discrimination and lack of understanding through talking about the positives of being positive.

The roots of my positive Tree of Life keep me firmly grounded in the reality of campaigning, advocacy and awareness-raising. These are fundamental to communicating with others, changing perceptions, combatting health inequalities and obtaining appropriate support. The tree trunk allows me the time and place both to lean back and relax or to lean against for strength. The people I’ve met and the various organisations I’ve been involved with over the years are represented by the tree trunk. Being positive has enabled me to become friends

with people I might never have met if I’d had a non-positive life. For me, every year the ring of contacts and connections in the tree trunk grows wider and stronger.

The branches and leaves signify the diverse opportunities that being HIV positive has offered me interaction with. These include amazing communities and initiatives like Re:Assure, The Vine Project, BASELINE and the Walk for Life. They may all point in different directions and have individual shapes but they are part of one tree and together they form a stunning canopy in full bloom that I can point out to others to prove to them that HIV is about living not dying.

‘I truly hope that your journey gives you strength and supports you to fulfill your dreams,’

So, whether you aspire to be the fairy atop the Tree of Life, or if hugging the tree makes
you happy or climbing it meets your need for accomplishment I truly hope that your journey gives you strength and supports you to fulfill your dreams, now and throughout every year.


by Tom