|© UNICEF France/2006|
|Youth AIDS activist Kerrel McKay of Jamaica.|
By Blue Chevigny
NEW YORK, USA, 19 October 2006 – In her latest Digital Diary, UNICEF Radio Youth Reporter and Jamaican AIDS activist Kerrel McKay interviews other young leaders she met at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto.
Over 1,000 youth activists attended the global meeting, which took place in August in Toronto, Canada.
In her radio diary, Kerrel, 20, travels around the youth pavilion where activists have gathered, interviewing young people from all walks of life and the four corners of the globe.
Children on the street
“Here’s a very inspiring young man,” she says, as she prepares to interview Desmond, 24, of Innercity, a drop-in centre for youth in Toronto. Desmond lived on the streets as a teenager and is now a peer educator for Innercity, where he got help when he was in need.
For young people living on the street, it’s easy to become vulnerable to HIV infection, Desmond says. “The largest problem is lack of self-esteem,” he notes. “It’s hard to feel a sense of self-worth if you can’t take care of yourself.”
Desmond tells Kerrel he believes this low sense of self contributes to the rising rate of infection among young people. “Today, half of all new HIV infections are among youth,” he says. “This is a problem for the next generation.”
‘Young people hold the key’
Kerrel goes on to interview Henry, a young man from Uganda who agrees that only young people will be able to turn the AIDS pandemic around.
“Young people must join the fight against AIDS,” says Henry. “It’s a long fight, it’s not an easy fight, but young people hold the key.”
Kerrel and other young people who attended the Toronto AIDS meeting look forward to 2008, when the biennial conference will be held in Mexico. They hope to have an even more prominent role in the proceedings there.
Kerrel’s efforts on HIV/AIDS prevention – and her Digital Diary – are informed by her own direct experience with the disease. She was 10 years old when her father was diagnosed with AIDS. Her parents were separated, and at age 14 she had to take on the burden of caretaking.
When her father later died, Kerrel’s initial feelings of despair were soon converted into an energetic vision. “I realized I could educate young people,” she says. “I could use my story to help people understand we are all affected by this disease.” In 2000, she started the Portland Parish Youth Committee, an arm of the UNICEF-supported Portland AIDS Committee in her hometown in Jamaica.
Since then, Kerrel has branched out from her activist work to a job with a Ministry of Health outreach programme in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. She spends nights counselling youths in clubs and on the streets.
For several months now, Kerrel has been using a mini-disc recorder and microphone to record some of her thoughts and conversations for UNICEF Radio. Her entries are featured in the UNICEF Radio and Voices of Youth Digital Diaries Project, which allows young people with compelling stories to represent their own experience and produce their own radio diaries.
19 October 2006:
UNICEF Youth Reporter Kerrel McKay reports on conversations with other youth leaders from the International AIDS Conference in Toronto.