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UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children visits AIDS projects in São Paulo

© UNICEF/Kent Page
UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children, HRH Grand Duchess of Luxembourg Maria Teresa (front row, left-centre), at a presentation of the ‘Fala Serio!’ puppet play, which uses entertainment to teach young people in São Paulo about HIV/AIDS.

By Kent Page

SÃO PAULO, Brazil, 10 December 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 Her Royal Highness Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, Maria Teresa, during the first official field visit in her new capacity as a UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children.

“Many of the challenges you face here in Brazil are those facing young people in my country and around the world,” she added during the recent trip. “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,” she pledged.

Youth projects play important role

The Grand Duchess made her comments while speaking with an adolescent journalist from the Brazilian youth magazine ‘Viração’ following her visit to several UNICEF-supported projects – including Viração, CEFRAN and Tecer o Futuro in São Paulo.

The three projects work with children and adolescents affected by HIV and AIDS.

“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,” said the Grand Duchess.

© UNICEF/Kent Page
Youths who work with the UNICEF-supported ‘Fala Serio!’ puppet theatre project focus on breaking down prejudices against people living with HIV.

Stories of AIDS-affected young people

During her visit, Her Royal Highness also had the opportunity to hear about the challenges facing AIDS-affected young people in Brazil.

“We want to talk with you about the prejudice that people have against people living with HIV,” said 14-year-old João (the names of the children mentioned in this story have been changed). “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…. It makes a big difference in our lives.”

“João is right,” said Juliana, who contracted the disease from her mother and first discovered she was living with HIV at the age of nine.

‘My life has improved!’

“When I first learned that I was HIV-positive, the doctor suggested that I don’t tell anyone because of prejudice,” Juliana recalled. “As I got older, I started to understand what it all meant and I got very scared. One of my first reactions was to cut myself off from other people.

“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,” she continued.

“When I first heard about ‘Tecer o Futuro’, I was depressed and unhealthy. 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!”

Working to support friends and family

Today, Juliana and other young people involved in the UNICEF-supported projects here use their knowledge to fight society’s prejudice against people living with HIV. They do so by talking with children and adolescents at schools or non-governmental organizations, and through presentations of the ‘Fala Serio!’ puppet play, which teaches important life skills about HIV/AIDS in a entertaining, amusing and informative way.

Another AIDS-affected youth, Marcelo, explained to the Grand Duchess that many people feel helpless 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 Her Royal Highness 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.”



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