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South Africa

‘Thembi’s AIDS Diary’: A year in the life of a South African teenager

© UNICEF/2006/Markisz
Thembi Ngubane, 19, speaking at UNICEF headquarters in New York on 13 April.
By John Allison

NEW YORK, USA, 18 April 2006 – For the past year, Thembi Ngubane, a 19-year-old from the township of Khayelitsa, South Africa, has been recording a diary of her struggle to live with AIDS.
Tomorrow, that story – told with poetic insight and a unique sense of humor – will be heard across the United States when ‘Thembi’s AIDS Diary’ airs on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

Outfitted by Radio Diaries Productions with a recorder and a microphone, Thembi collected over 50 hours of audio from her life – telling her father she has AIDS, applying for antiretroviral medication at the local health clinic, late-night dancing at home with her boyfriend – which were then edited down to a half-hour documentary by Radio Diaries producer Joe Richman.

Thembi, whose goal is to be a journalist, quickly caught on to the possibilities offered by radio. “I feel like if a person is listening to my story, that person is with me,” she said. “Every time she hears the dog bark, it’s like she is waking up in my yard. I’ve taken that person to South Africa, into my shack, into my township, into my everyday routine.”

© UNICEF/2006/Markisz
From New York, Thembi Ngubane will travel to Washington D.C., Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago to tell her story at high schools, colleges and special events in each city.
Talking to peers, changing minds

More than 5 million South Africans are HIV-positive, and young women like Thembi are the hardest hit: Among infected 15- to 24-year-olds, more than three-quarters are female.

“AIDS is such a faceless issue and I knew that I wanted to personalize it, humanize it,” said Mr. Richman. “It was important to not find someone who was going to feel like a victim, but someone who felt strong, who felt powerful, and who was taking control – as much as they can – over the disease and over their own life.”

Thembi is currently on a five-city US tour, telling her story to high school and college students, members of Congress and audiences at public events in each city. Her first stop was the Danny Kaye Centre at UNICEF House in New York on 13 April, when she spoke about her belief that young people would rather learn about HIV/AIDS from one of their peers than from a textbook.

“I think when they hear something that is coming naturally from someone, that’s personal,” said Thembi. “It’s better than reading it. It makes a big impact and someone may change his mind.”

Blue Chevigny contributed to this story.




13 April 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on Thembi Ngubane’s visit to UNICEF’s Danny Kaye Centre, her radio diary and her AIDS awareness tour.


13 April 2006:
UNICEF correspondent John Allison reports on Thembi Ngubane’s visit to the Danny Kaye Centre at UNICEF House in New York.

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