By Lucy Wanjiku (Kenya) and Musah Lumumba (Uganda)
Recommended by the NGO Delegation, Lucy Wanjiku leader of Sauti Sikika, an Adolescent wing within All In! Kenya, supported by NEPHAK, spoke at the Thematic Segment of the 38th Meeting of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (UNAIDS PCB) in Geneva last June. Lucy shared what she understood as the role of young people (as part of the broader community most affected by HIV) in ending AIDS by 2030: to be listened to and engaged by committed leaders. She responded to the question, “where is the money to end AIDS by 2030?” and reflected on how much leaders ‘value’ the lives of her colleagues who are living with and getting infected by HIV and dying of AIDS, because of dwindling resources for local health centers. She also contemplated on the larger issue of poverty where HIV is situated, for instance: how some of her peers often miss taking their anti retroviral drugs (ARVs) because they can’t swallow those huge pills on their empty stomachs.
Have you ever had a brush with death?
Perhaps you were driving and you almost had a head-on collision. Or you were probably in a bus, and if it weren’t for just a little swerve to the edge of the road that spared your life, you could have been dead. Or you were in a plane and there was a major turbulence that even when the oxygen masks were released, you were not sure you would make it. So scary were these encounters that you had to take some time to reflect on life. I had such an encounter after getting to my destination and finding an email from one of my mentors, Florence, asking – pleading – to tell her that I was fine because of the news of a blast. I was confused at first and quickly Googled for news. Alas! I saw all those people who had died, a big number of twenty eight, and sixty of them injured at the Istanbul airport due to suicide bombing, leaving all of us weak. I was there some three hours earlier. Had I been there for four hours, what would have happened! Was I lucky?
In the lives of young people living with HIV and the communities most impacted by the epidemic, this kind of incident is pretty much what we encounter in our daily life. We wonder as we keep going to funerals of our friends and family if we are next. We wonder if we are better off and we know we are not — as clinics and health care centers near us in the rural areas close down one by one due to lack of funding. We have a brush with death more than we ought to. We believe it is our right to enjoy the greatest, “bestest” health care, which is the third goal in the Sustainable Development Goals. Sadly, we find that this isn’t really the case. Somehow it is expected that more results be produced. Since it is HIV and AIDS, it requires more from us other than the millions of children, young people and our loved ones who have already died.
It is only human when – for instance – you have an orange and you find someone very hungry, you share your orange. You might not give the entire orange but a piece (carpel) is way much better and may keep the person alive for another day. It is crazy to first ask this person to show you how the orange will help him/her or will bring results, so that you can decide if he/she is worthy of this food. As you do this, you also picture all the other oranges you have in your barn. But some people are very stingy with even a piece of this one orange.
We young people may not be in your big high-level meetings or in your decision-making meetings in your offices, because meaningful involvement and leaving no one behind are just beautiful, sweet phrases in the documents on next steps that ensure you sleep at night. Rarely are they followed through and when you finally come around to them, it is just for reporting purposes. Yes, young people have come and have given their contributions to your meetings somehow. They may have barely constructed a sentence that comes close to the sophisticated language you speak – words like, cohort, circumvent, implement, integrate and the like. They may have probably wondered if they should have brought their dictionary along, when they are meant to represent rural youth.
We see you. We hear you. We feel and figure where we fall in the chain. We should be first priority. But I guess that is asking too much. There may come a time that we won’t be here anymore, you will have concentrated so much on what matters to you that we will lack meaning and when you come around to remember that it was all about us, that money was not equivalent to lives, that we are the next generation, it will be a little too late, death will have done its worst.