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

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

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 15 August 2006 – For the past few months, Jamaican youth AIDS activist Kerrel McKay has been using a mini-disc recorder and microphone to record some of her thoughts and conversations 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 latest diary, Kerrel interviews patrons of the Oasis Bar in Kingston, Jamaica about their understanding of HIV prevention.

“You are hearing the voices of Jamaican people,” she says. “Gentlemen are having their drinks, some are playing games at the game board. It’s a little humid.”

Kerrel goes on to record her conversation with the bartender, a woman named Tricia. “Do you think HIV and AIDS is only an adult disease?” she asks.

“No,” Tricia replies, “because mothers who are infected sometimes pass it on to their children.”

Kerrel also approaches Liesl, a young woman who is doing outreach work to customers at the bar, with a question about her work. “What is your message to youth who say that I cannot wait, I must have sex, now?” she asks.

“No, no, you must abstain,” answers Liesl. “But if you cannot wait and must have sex, I advise you to use a condom.”

Kerrel’s story: ‘We are all affected’

Kerrel’s efforts on HIV/AIDS prevention – and her Digital Diary – are informed by her own direct experience with the disease. She 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.”




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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