In May 1985 a handful of volunteers gathered in Sydney to take on a growing crisis. They would be the first group trained to support people living with HIV/ AIDS as part of new community organisation Ankali.

Twenty years on, HIV/ AIDS remains. And so do the volunteers, with Ankali preparing to mark two decades of service with a party later this month.

The occasion will see Ankali, which is part of the Albion Street Centre, pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 volunteers who have given their time over the years.

It will also be an opportunity to reflect on Ankali’s evolving role, in step with advances in HIV/ AIDS treatment.

Where in the early days we primarily worked with people who were sick and dying, that’s not the case these days, Ankali manager Michael Buggy told Sydney Star Observer.

Nowadays, most of Ankali’s clients are relatively well, and volunteers are more likely to provide social support.

Ankali’s volunteer base has also evolved since the early days, when most recruits were gay men or people with a previous connection to HIV/ AIDS.

That’s much less so today. More than half our volunteers are women and we attract volunteers who come from right across the wider community, Buggy said.

Ankali clients are not the only ones to benefit from that diversity, according to current volunteer Brian McElroy.

Weekly volunteer meetings are just as rewarding as helping clients, McElroy said.

Our group has got people from all walks of life and all ages. Some of them have been in Ankali for more than 10 years, he said.

They bring a wealth of human experience to the group and also it’s a bonding and a friendship.

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