Shanti: A Sanskrit word that translates to inner peace; or rather “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Shanti Projects is an online exhibit documenting the work that Shanti Project performed during the early decades of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Since 1974, Shanti has provided psychosocial peer support counseling to people with life-threatening illnesses and their loved ones in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. During the early years of the AIDS crisis, Shanti rose to the challenge by creating groundbreaking services for people living with AIDS/HIV. For much of the 1980s and 1990s Shanti was one of the largest AIDS organizations in the U.S. The plurality of the exhibit’s title reflects the vast array of people’s experiences at Shanti during that time period, as well as those who work with Shanti today. 

As the AIDS crisis grew to epidemic proportions, hundreds of people came to Shanti to do something about the growing numbers of people they knew who were sick or dying. People with AIDS/HIV sought out Shanti for emotional support, a shoulder to cry on, a person to rage with, to have someone visit them in the hospital, to help them do their dishes, drive them to appointments, to meet other people with AIDS, to find housing. Many of the things listed seem small but ask anyone who has been incapacitated by illness, or someone whose lover or friend or parent has been ill; assistance with those tasks is no small feat. These small acts often were the gateway for personal growth for Shanti clients, volunteers, and staff. Those moments also served as a gateway for potential social transformation. 


 Shanti Projects is organized to reflect the process of becoming involved with Shanti as a volunteer. It opens with background on Shanti’s founding; how volunteers and staff were trained, and the role that people with AIDS played in those trainings. It is followed by two sections examining Shanti’s various programs. “The Gift of Presence” examines Shanti’s HIV client services from the 1980s to the 1990s by highlighting Shanti’s support groups, the Emotional Support, Practical Support, Crossings, and Van transportation programs; as well as Shanti volunteer ad campaigns from the mid 1980s. The following section, “Shanti in the World,” examines Shanti’s Residence Program and the San Francisco General Hospital Counseling Program. While most of Shanti’s client services took place in people’s private homes; the Residence and Hospital Counselor’s program took place in a centralized space away from the main offices and within a different style of kinship between clients and counselors, as well as community partners. 

Alongside the main exhibit are three multimedia pages. One, Shanti Portraits, showcases the work of photographer Judi Iranyi. The numerous group photos and individual portraits will provide space to help identify the numerous people in the photos. Heart Work includes the work of Iranyi, Mariella Poli, and Jim Wigler with their portraits of people with AIDS/HIV who played important roles as either a client, volunteers, or a public face in connection with Shanti. The final page, Active Listening, will host space to eventually provide audio clips from oral histories conducted for this project with accompanying transcripts to follow.

A variety of people’s experiences and opinions on Shanti  anchor the importance of this organization that continues to provide care to people with HIV, as well as various cancers and LGBTQ senior citizens.  Highlighting the good, the controversial, and the way Shanti handled issues of difference and conflict are reflected here throughout the exhibit. Consider this a bird’s eye view of Shanti Project’s AIDS work. The content of the exhibit will expand as more materials are made available. Stay updated on this website’s content by signing up for our newsletter below. 

The Exhibit

Starting at Shanti

The Shanti Volunteer Trainings

The Gift of Presence:

Shanti’s HIV Client Services through the decades

Shanti in the World:

The Residence Program and the Shanti Ward 5b/5a Counselors