World AIDS Day in Kenya: Saving Lives, Inspiring Activists
by Urooj Arshad, Asociate Director, International Youth Health and Rights
This past June, I had the incredible privilege of visiting Kisumu, Kenya to work with MAAYGO (Men Against AIDS Youth Group), an organization that Advocates for Youth is partnering with under its International LGBTQ+ Youth Health and Rights Program. MAAYGO seeks to inspire and motivate LGBTQ youth to plan and coordinate activities to create a stronger and healthier community for them, where effective participation in agenda for safer sex and sexual and reproductive health and rights, human rights, economic development, becomes a mutually accepted norm at community level.
MAAYGO’s work literally saves lives. To commemorate World AIDS Day, I wanted to highlight some stories of young people who have been impacted by MAAYGOs work to combat stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth.
“My name is Fred Ochieng, I am gay and living with HIV which I have had since birth. I face the double stigma and of being gay and HIV positive. For a while, I was in a state of denial and hated myself, but four years ago I was referred by a friend to attend an event organized by MAAYGO where I met MAAYGO’s staff and started networking with them. I re-tested for HIV and then started on treatment. I am also working through self-stigma and can now feel comfortable with who I am. I now live positively through taking my treatment and continue to attend MAAYGO’s peer sessions and support group.”
“I am Hassan Biko and I am a bisexual man who is HIV positive and has been taking my treatment at LVCT HEALTH Kisumu for the last three years. Through MAAYGO, I came to learn about my HIV status at one of their moonlight activities they conduct at the hot spots. At first it was hard and challenging to accept that I was HIV positive but through counseling and support from the community and MAAYGO’s monthly support group forums, I can now share my HIV status with others. I have also been given trainings on adherence and this helps me to take my treatment at the right time. Through MAAYGO, I have also been trained around negotiating safer sex and self-efficacy. MAAYGO has also helped me by providing commodities such as condoms, lubricants and IEC materials.”
“My name is Louise and i started attending MAAYGO’s activities in 2013. During their outreach events, I was mobilized by a friend who is a MAAYGO peer educator to come and participate in their monthly peer education sessions on SRHR. Attending MAAYGO peer education sessions has helped me have the basic skills of living positive as a young gay person who was discriminated and stigmatized because of my sexuality and HIV status. I have also been taught about issues around disclosure which has helped me a lot in terms of coming out to my family and friends. The component around nutritional supplements which we are trained on during monthly support group meetings has played a significant role in my life and the knowledge i have gained from the trainings and meeting has also enabled me to become a role model to other peers. MAAYGO has created a safe space that has enabled me to interact with other peers and we share experiences that affect us. MAAYGO’s resource center has allowed me access to read books and use the internet for free. MAAYGO has granted me an opportunity to be one of the community role models and has provided me with a lifetime opportunity to openly talk to young people about my life as a young, gay, HIV positive person.”
Clearly, MAAYGO’s ground breaking work in reducing the stigma and discrimination LGBTQ youth face in accessing health services and leading a life of dignity and respect has a significant impact. These are just a few stories out of the hundreds of young people it supports.