The theme for World AIDS Day 2019 is “Communities make the difference”. For me this strikes a special chord, not only because of my own personal story with HIV but also because of the central role that communities have played in fighting HIV since the outbreak of the epidemic over 30 years ago.
I was diagnosed with HIV in January 2010, when I was 24-years-old. The average age at which people are diagnosed with HIV in the UK is approximately 33. My HIV diagnosis left me feeling shame, anger and even grief. It took me a number of years to come to terms with my HIV and grow into the empowered activist and writer I am today.
An HIV diagnosis is difficult, whatever your age. I had just started my career as a lawyer the summer before my diagnosis. I had been bullied at school. It seemed like I had only a short window where my life was comparatively carefree.
I began to see the challenges I faced coming to terms with HIV through a different lens when I learned about the important work done by Nyumbani UK & The Hotcourses Foundation in Kenya. Across three sites The Foundation help young people living with or impacted by HIV.
Not all the young people The Foundation helps are living with HIV themselves. Some are orphans who lost their families to AIDS. Others are navigating the education system and subsequently setting up their own businesses. The Foundation currently supports over 3000 young people in Kenya.
The Foundation has created communities where young people can escape the stigma of HIV and experience a happy childhood. They have the same dreams that I had when I was a child, or that any parent living in the UK would have for their child. These people are no different to us.
I recall the intense sense of loss when I thought my legal career might be cut short by my own HIV diagnosis. But when this is compared to the loss some of these young people have faced I feel truly humbled.
Young people are our future and one of the aspects of my campaigning that I enjoy the most is visiting schools in the UK, where I talk about my human rights activism and my personal story, including my HIV diagnosis.
We are striving for, and in many ways approaching, a society in the UK where no child has their aspirations limited by ethnicity, gender, sexuality or creed. The Foundation is breaking down barriers around HIV in Kenya, so that these children can also aspire.
I want to conclude by briefly reflecting on how I overcame my own HIV diagnosis, as it draws together a number of the themes I’ve touched on in this article. It was because I reached out to charities and found peer support groups for people living with HIV that I finally gained objectivity and acceptance. Speaking to other people living with HIV and finding supportive communities was a turning point in my life
Keep up-to-date with Nyumbani UK & The Hotcourses Foundation’s work by following www.instagram.com/NyumbaniUK and with HIV awareness activist Philip Baldwin and his journey on social media www.instagram.com/philipcbaldwin