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Young Honduran activist and editor inspires children living with HIV

© UNICEF video
Honduran youth AIDS activist Keren Gonzalez, 12, with a copy of ‘Llavecitas’, a magazine she publishes for children living with HIV.

By Chris Niles

The XVll International AIDS Conference begins in Mexico on 3 August. About 25,000 people are expected to attend, including political and public health leaders, and young people affected by AIDS. Here is one in a series of stories leading up to the annual conference.

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, 30 July 2008 – Keren Gonzalez is only 12 years old, but she is one of the featured guests at the world’s largest AIDS conference being held in Mexico next week.

Llavecitas is for children, so that they grow up with information about HIV. So that they will support us and not discriminate against us when they are older.”

Keren Gonzalez, 12

There, she will have the ear of leaders such as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Director General of the World Health Organisation Margaret Chan and the former US President and founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, Bill Clinton.

Living with HIV

Keren has lived with HIV her entire life. Her family broke the news to her when she was five.

“My parents used drawings to explain it to me,” she said.

Both of Keren’s parents are among the 1.5 per cent of the adult population in Honduras who are living with HIV. They edit a magazine called ‘Llaves’ (‘Keys’) to support those living with the virus, and Keren was inspired by their example. She publishes ‘Llavecitas’ (‘Little Keys’), which helps children deal with the challenges of HIV and, in particular, to abolish stigma.

Discrimination and ignorance

“‘Llavecitas’ is for children, so that they grow up with information about HIV. So that they will support us and not discriminate against us when they are older,” Keren said.

Discrimination is something Keren knows well. She is constantly surprised when people tell her that her condition is “in her mind.”

“Some of the things people say amaze me,” she said. “They say this is not real.”

Dreams for the future

Besides providing important information about HIV and AIDS, ‘Llavecitas’ has games and a music section, which features artists who support HIV education. Keren loves music, especially the American pop star Miley Cyrus in her role as ‘Hannah Montana’. She hopes one day to follow in her footsteps.

“Before, I didn’t even think about being older,” she said. “But perhaps I can take on ‘Llaves’, and I’m also interested in being a designer and a singer.”

‘Llavecitas’ has made Keren one of Honduras’s most prominent anti-AIDS activists, with regular speaking and media engagements. It’s a busy role she performs with the help of a loving family.

A request to world leaders

“My family supports me,” she said. “They help me remember to take my medicine. My cousins help with my homework and chores and they help me edit the magazine.”

Keren will be asking for help, too, from the world leaders at the international conference in Mexico, and her request is a simple one:

“I hope you are going to support all children living with HIV, so that we are not discriminated against.”






July 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the work of youth AIDS activist Keren Gonzalez, who will speak at the XVll International AIDS Conference.
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