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Digital diary: Jamaican youth AIDS activist Kerrel McKay tells her story, her way

UNICEF Image: UNICEF video image Kerrel McKay
© UNICEF video
Kerrel McKay, 20, in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 25 April 2006 – Kerrel McKay was 10 years old when her father was diagnosed with AIDS. She lived in the parish of Portland on Jamaica’s northeast coast. Her parents were separated, and at age 14 she had to take on the burden of caretaking.

“I had to wash his home, wash his clothes. I had to do his grocery shopping and take him to doctor’s appointments,” Kerrel remembers. That was hard, but it was even harder when her father became too sick for her to continue caring for him. Then he was moved into a hospice.

When he 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.

Today, at 20, Kerrel is just as committed to ending the epidemic as she was six years ago. She 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 working in clubs and on the streets. “We reach out to marginalized people,” Kerrel explains. “I talk to the dancers, to the commercial sex workers, about the dangers of HIV infection.”

A fresh perspective

Starting a couple of months ago, Kerrel began using a mini-disc recorder and microphone to record some of her thoughts for UNICEF Radio. Her entries are the latest 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.

In her diary, Kerrel introduces herself and her commitment to fighting AIDS but also reveals her playful side, starting with her interest in music.

“There’s a lot of conscious music coming out these days,” she says, playing some of her favorite songs for her listeners. “Young people are so influenced by singers and DJs. If they can get out some positive messages about safer behaviours, that’s great.”

Kerrel goes on to record her neighbour speaking and the sound of some of the dogs outside her house. She describes how beautiful her country is, with “sunshine and blue skies and flowers everywhere. Jamaica can be a wonderful place to live. We just have to make it that way.”

Kerrel’s digital diary will reappear as she continues to report self-produced radio from Jamaica. Her infectious laughter and unique point of view provide listeners with a fresh perspective on how HIV/AIDS affects her community and, by extension, the whole world.




10 August 2006:
UNICEF Youth Reporter Kerrel McKay reports from the Oasis Bar in Kingston, Jamaica where she is engaged as an outreach worker trying to educate the public about HIV and AIDS.
AUDIO listen

2 May 2006:
UNICEF Youth Reporter Kerrel McKay interviews fellow Jamaican HIV/AIDS activist Gary Foster about how he got into the field and how to reach young people.
AUDIO listen

25 April 2006:
Activist and UNICEF Youth Reporter Kerrel McKay talks about Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS crisis and how it has affected her personally.
AUDIO listen

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