Young activist asserts the rights of her HIV-positive peers
Although Liza is only 15 years old, she is already a well-known civic activist both in Ukraine and abroad. This young, nice, and courageous girl talks openly about her own HIV status and the issue of HIV among children and adolescents, something that neither her peers nor adults would dare to do.
Liza has been aware of HIV since she was a kid, as her mother was drug addict who died from AIDS when Liza was only six years old. “I was often sick, and we used to go to hospital with my granny. When my mother died, granny left the doctor’s office crying. I was thinking to myself, what could afflict her so much? She then told me about my HIV status and that I would constantly have to take medicine,” she recalls. When other kids her age were reading children’s books, Liza was surfing for information about HIV/AIDS on the Internet to understand why mother died, and also what was happening to herself.
Since a young age, Liza has strictly kept herself to the schedule of taking anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drugs, which her life and health depend on. Together with music and games, she installed an alarm on her mobile phone to remind her to take her medicine, as it is dangerous for her to miss or forget to take them.
Liza recalls when she first told her friend about her HIV during the class, and was so afraid for her response that she ran out of the classroom and waited in the toilets. However, she soon learned there was no reason to be afraid, as the attitude of her friends and parents did not change. She did struggle with the response from her teachers, however, due to their lack of awareness of the issue and also the fact that during health classes stereotypes discriminating against HIV-positive people were shared. For example, they said that HIV could be transmitted airborne or by shaking hands and that children should not communicate with such people. Disputes with teachers for these reasons often send Liza to the director’s office.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. Liza is proud that the teachers started to ask her about advice about HIV/AIDS. Together with other activists, she carries out meetings in Universities and schools, where children, adolescents and young people can openly discuss the problem of HIV/AIDS.
Change became possible when Liza involved herself with the School of young leaders, organized by the Eastern European and Central Asia Association of People Living with HIV, and with the support of UNICEF. Later on, she represented HIV positive children at a meeting with the President of Ukraine, and in late 2012 she spoke publicly to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and called to allocate funds for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis in the state budget in order to save thousands of people’s lives.
Liza’s speech in the Parliament was broadcasted on TV news, making her very well-known nationally, and awareness of her HIV status growing. Liza explains that after this speech, she received hundreds of e-mails, messages through social networks and phone calls. “I received support from many people, who wrote to me, “you are great, you were not afraid”, I made a lot of new friends”, she says.
Lisa, being the youngest activist for the rights of HIV-positive children in Ukraine, was one of the HIV affected children who took the players of Ukraine and England football teams to the pitch at the qualifying match for the World Cup 2014 in Kyiv. That was unforgettable experience for Lisa, who noted: "I was very lucky to get at such an important game for our country. It was so amazing that almost 70,000 people including myself and other children watched the game at the stadium. They will remember the match for a long time. I and other children who opened the match with the players will remember this game even longer!" (read more about the event here).
Liza receives letters and messages every day from people of different ages – even those who are two or three times older than herself – and from different countries, who ask for her advice or moral support. “I love helping people, I love being an example. It’s really cool”, she says with spirit.
The School of young leaders helped modest Liza get self-confidence and demonstrated how a young person can assist and inspire others. One of her biggest dreams is to bust myths about HIV/AIDS and develop tolerant attitudes to HIV-positive people in society, “because it is not right that the adolescents are afraid of disclosing their status and cannot openly speak about their problems”.
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Since 2013, UNICEF together with East Europe & Central Asia Union of PLWH (EECAU) with the support of MAC AIDS Fund (Make-up Art Cosmetics) implements a project on providing access for children and adolescents who practice risky behavior, to the treatment and prevention of HIV and on improving methods for early infant diagnosis of HIV. The project also involves working with adolescents and children living with HIV, including the development of their leadership skills, as well as ensuring the public service system provides services for adolescents affected by HIV/AIDS, in order to meet their medical, emotional and psychological needs and provide support for these adolescents through social networks and intrenet resources.
The project will be implemented in three cities of Ukraine - Kiev, Nikolayev, Donetsk and involving local partners.