This year’s Red Ribbon Award Winner is Margaret Ormond, Special Programs Coordinator at Sunshine House in Winnipeg. The Red Ribbon Award is presented annually for outstanding service to the cause of research in a way that has increased our understanding of the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, while enhancing the quality of life of those living with this disease.
Sunshine House is a drop-in and resource centre with a focus on harm reduction, health promotion and social programing. It’s a ‘come as you are’ place where anyone can visit and be sure of a safe and welcoming environment. Margaret has been involved since the centre’s inception and coordinates activities and services. “The whole mandate is to create a place where people can learn and grow. That sounds like everything is nice and neat — It isn’t!” jokes Margaret. “We get up to stuff. It’s raucous. But it’s an environment where people can work on things and do things to the extent they want.”
In addition to special programs for the community, Margaret has helped numerous HIV/AIDS research projects by connecting with and involving study participants in a meaningful way. “Initially, the participants don’t know why we are asking these questions and what the research means. I want to be able to explain it to them in a way they can understand and feel they are part of something bigger— something important.” Recently, Margaret organized a visit to a lab for study participants. They went through every step — learning what the research was looking at and what would happen to the samples they gave. “They came back feeling like they were really part of a serious scientific process,” Margaret explains. “Who knows what will come out of the research, but I’m comfortable that the whole process was respectful from the get-go.”
To Margaret, multidisciplinarity and meaningful involvement of participants is critical to good research. “The research process is a very strong one, but if you are going to work with people who are considered ‘vulnerable’, I think there’s a lot to learn there,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s possible to get at that well unless you understand how the community operates.” She hopes that by working with young students, she can help the culture of research become more inclusive. “I get to work with smart people who are eager to learn the process. Their associations with me and the Sunshine House will be a little blip in their careers, but I hope I leave them scratching their heads a little. I hope they say ‘maybe we can do this a different way’.”