UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children - HRH Grand Duchess of Luxembourg Visits UNICEF-Supported HIV/AIDS Projects in São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, 27 de Noviembre 2007 - “I have learned so much from all of the young people that I met and spoke with today. You have inspired me with your optimism, your courage, your determination and your warmth”, said UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children, HRH Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, Maria Teresa, on her first official field visit as a UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children. “Many of the challenges you face here in Brazil are the as those facing young people in my country and around the world. You have touched my heart with your openness and resolve to overcome these challenges, and to help other young people as well. I will do everything I can to support you through my work with UNICEF.”
Maria Teresa made her comments while speaking with an adolescent journalist from the Brazilian youth magazine ‘Viração’ following her visit to the UNICEF Brazil-supported projects CEFRAN, Tecer o Futuro and Viração, in São Paulo. The three projects work with children and adolescents affected by HIV. “Those of you who write for Viração magazine have an important responsibility, not only to inform people about the truth about HIV and to help remove prejudices surrounding it, but to also inform young people about the importance of life values and skills, including respecting and taking care of ourselves and each other.”
During her visit, Maria Teresa had the opportunity to hear about the challenges facing young people affected by HIV in Brazil. “We want to talk with you about the prejudice that people have against people living with HIV”, said 14-year old João*. “Most of the time, we can’t tell anyone that we are HIV positive or that our parents are HIV positive, but here at the CEFRAN centre, we can talk about it because we know that everyone understands and we know that no one will judge us about what we are living with, but will accept us for who we really are. It makes a big difference in our lives.”
“João is right”, says Juliana*. “When I first learned that I was HIV positive, the doctor suggested that I don’t tell anyone because of prejudice! As I got older, I started to understand what it all meant and I got very scared,” Juliana remembers. “One of my first reactions was to cut myself off from other people.” Maria Teresa listened intently as Juliana continued her story. “I contracted HIV from my mother,” explains Juliana. “She stopped taking her medicines and got sick from opportunistic diseases and died when I was only seven. When I was 9 years old, I was very sick and that’s when they found out that I had the virus, too.”
“We know that many people get the virus because they think it only happens to other people, but the young people who participate in our projects and see our puppet theatre plays learn the truth about HIV/AIDS, and how everyone is vulnerable. When I first heard about ‘Tecer o Futuro’, I was depressed and unhealthy,” continues Juliana. “At one point, I stopped taking my daily medicines and ended up weighing only 49 kilos. But ever since I got involved in the project, my life has improved!” Today, Juliana and the other young people, use all their knowledge to fight against society’s prejudice surrounding those living with the virus by talking with children and adolescents at schools or NGOs, and through their presentations of the ‘Fala Serio!’ puppet play which talks about HIV/AIDS, teaching important life skills in a entertaining, amusing and informative way.
Marcelo* explained to Maria Teresa the helplessness that many people feel when a loved one is living with HIV. “My aunt got very sick from HIV and even though we were very close, I felt that I couldn’t do anything to help her. At one point, the medicines couldn’t help her anymore and it was very sad when she finally passed away, because she was a very important person in my life,” he said quietly. “But you have done so much for your aunt,” replied Maria Teresa warmly. “Your love, your presence and your kindness towards her were probably the most important and precious things you could do for her. We all need to encourage more love, respect and understanding for those living with HIV, just like you did.”
“I believe the most important thing we can do for children is to protect them and help provide them with the life skills and knowledge they need to have healthy lives and a better future,” said Maria Teresa on being named UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children in April 2007. “The dedication and enthusiasm I have seen from the young people I met today here in São Paulo is really inspiring and I know that each and every one of them is helping to make the world a better place. They can count on my continued support and that of UNICEF.”
* The names of the children mentioned in this PhotoNote have been changed to protect their identity.
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