I’m HIV Negative!

I don’t mean to shout from the rooftops - with relief no less. After all, HIV is not a death sentence (as it was once viewed in the past). With progress in anti-retroviral treatment HIV is now recognised as a manageable chronic disease for the 33 million people worldwide currently living with the virus; it’s not doom and gloom – which is why we use the word ‘living’ not ‘dying’ with the virus.

Nevertheless, anyone who’s been in my position can sympathise that’s it’s an unforgiving nerve-racking period sitting there, waiting for the result.

Before I took the ‘FasTEST’ same day HIV test service at the Terrance Higgins Trust clinic (in Waterloo) I was surveyed, grilled with deeply personal questions – but research required (as a condition) by the trained health professionals to see if I represented any of the groups where HIV is most prominent. So, without further ado, I was asked if I was homosexual, had multiple sex partners on the go, had taken any drugs using a needle (and so on and so on) No. No and… no.

But even then I felt nervous. 60 minutes of perspiration - despite the fact I knew I didn’t fit into any of the HIV ‘high risk groups’. Even then, I wondered, for any who did fit into the ‘high risk’ categories, what must go through their heads as they watch time go by a bit too slow for comfort?

A few drops of blood later and it was confirmed – I am HIV negative. Having gleefully abandoned Biology and Chemistry at G.C.S.E. level the scientific technicalities of the test were beyond me. But it was done. Dusted. Simples. I walked out as easily as I had walked in. And then my mind backtracked to this documentary I had recently watched about HIV/AIDS and homosexuality in Kenya:

Guardian Films and Christian Aid follow ‘Melvin’, a gay prostitute on the streets of Mombasa, living cautiously and often abused in a very stigmatised environment when it comes to homosexuality and HIV; and with the memory of murdered Ugandan gay activist David Kato fresh in everyone’s mind. Melvin is definitely ‘high risk’ – but will he get HIV tested? No. The fear feeds an ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude as he sees those who are gay and HIV positive subject to severe hostility and discrimination – in a country where there wasn’t a single medical facility for gay people until 2006.

Yet it took me one hour and no qualms to get tested in London; though I shouldn't forget to credit the superb persuasive powers of the Terrance Higgins 'FasTEST' saleswoman on street who convinced me to say "Why not!?" on my way home from work. No appointment needed. No charge. Confidentiality. No age, class, race, sexual preference, or immigration status limitations. One on one private advice before and after the test. IF I was found to be HIV positive, the Terrance Higgins clinic would’ve helped me get the support I required from local services. And, if not Waterloo, I had my pick of seven other walk-in clinics in London (and many more across the country).

In my opinion, everyone should be entitled to such health service and respect, which is why HIV justice actions such as this one set up by UNAIDS are so important: www.whatabouthiv.org; the vision is for a future with zero new HIV infections, zero stigma and discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

I started this blog by stating HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Though perhaps I can only say that with confidence because I live in this city.

For more information on local and national sexual health services, and to find your nearest HIV testing clinic, visit www.tht.org.uk/fastest

This is also published on the Media Trust Community Channel


Review: 2011 London Youth Policy Symposium

Young people. Youth. The next generation. Young adults. Young’uns. Young-guns. Adolescents. Youts. The yout-dem. Teenagers. Youngsters.

WHATEVER you wish to call us/them (I’m 23… what the hell does that make me?), that matters little; as long as mutual respect reigns over any patronisation and ignorance, I’m a happy lil’ boy undettered by the generation gap. Labels and pigeon holes aside, what does matter is that respect and understanding which sets the foundation for promise.

Though for that promise to be fulfilled, action must be the follow up. And I guess that’s what the point of this year – officially the UN International Year of Youth (August 2010-2011). Over the past few months from London to Bamako, New York to Beijing and beyond, conference after youth event after debate after projects have been created to convert all that hot air surrounding ‘youth development’ into some clean cut agendas.

The latest one I attended as a social reporter (above, me, tapping away) was the 2011 London Youth Policy Symposium at the Royal Chace Hotel in my very own great green back yard - Enfield; a good 20+ train stops away from my home in east London, but home soil nonetheless. From Washington in January, Brussels in March and a penultimate session unfortunately cancelled in Nairobi, this was the fourth and final in a series of symposiums set up by the British Youth Council and Open Society Foundations (supported by the British Youth Council as well as the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council), bringing key youth stakeholders together from around the world to learn, share and better meaningful youth participation in international decision-making.

Due to my face being stuck to my laptop/work, I missed all the chin-wagging of London Symposium Day 1 (May 17), which focused more on the issues and challenges of mobilising global youth voices. However, I was happy to roll in on Day 2 (May 18) which looked ahead to the solutions and action points (always my favourite part).

Some exciting, high-end to grassroots and innovative organisations brought their expertise and experience to the table, and with me not wanting to write a dissertation about wider strategies and mainstreaming, conditions and capacity building, impact of youth participation, transparency of organisations and structures, accountability and representation of youth people… (catch your breathe), here’s the run down of some key messages plus snapshots from the day:

Youth audit on the UN. Capitalise on our informal and formal networks. Train and support established leaders to lead and facilitate young people.

We must do all of the above according to Jennifer Corriero, Co-founder of Taking IT Global.

Regard young people as potential, a resource – not a ‘problem’ as many are referred to, said Mutinta Munyata and Kristoffer Sunday, of UN Habitat (located in Nairobi, Kenya), who set up and promoted an urban youth programme as well as a youth advisory board; one which harnesses youth participation, as well as provides strategic advice to UN-Habitat coordinators.

Sarah Huxley of DFid (UK Department For International Development) and author of the Youth CSO Network Youth Participation in Development Guide – spoke of having to create a strategic framework like the one she was involved in, surrounding prioritising youth participation on a global level; this now includes steering committees and co-ordinating sharing and learning networks across a range of nations.

And Kat Watson of IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) recounted creating an International Youth Committee with her organisation as a form of good practice – putting young people at the forefront of youth policy; helping youth people to have a voice, but also "helping the older generation to have an ear."

We must address the challenges! (a general reoccurring key point); from the lack of access to facilities, to the demand of grants and funding from needy youth groups, overcoming apathy, improving communication and providing constant opportunity for youth representation from grassroots, to advocacy and policy-making levels.

Great points all round. Though, as you can tell, we can state the issues/problems (from sunrise to sunset). The immense list of WHY is endless. Next step, beyond the corridors of a hotel in London town, has to be HOW we actively tackle the obstacles of meaningful international youth participation, and see that promise come to fruition.

Stay tuned at www.youthpolicy.org/participation as more ideas and research is collated to bring out the questions, and bring in the answers.

Photos: Elaine Wong - www.elainewong.co.uk

For more photos: www.flickr.com/youthpolicy

This is also published on the Media Trust Community Channel


Review: The Greenhouse Effect @ Farm: Shop - Dalston

What a venue! I can’t lie – it didn’t instantly catch my wondering eyes from the outside. In fact, coming out of Dalston Junction underground station, I took a right and walked straight past the venue (twice) before realising. Yet beyond the barred windows of the Farm: Shop lays the most environmentally friendly event setting I’ve seen in the bustling neck of the woods I call east London.

Check out the vid to see it being put together:

Founded by Something & Sons, the agriculture centre run by volunteers demonstrates different ways of growing food in Hackney (and London in general); with a chicken pen (for eggs) on the roof, fish tanks (providing nutrients for plants) at the front of the community cafĂ©, vegetables growing in the greenhouse out back, and mushrooms all around the shop. A pure green hub – a perfect spot on May 12 for The Greenhouse Effect; a spoken word poetry, music, and panel discussion night tackling that evergreen issue: climate change.

Catherine Brogan (above, who I’ve caught a few times performing alongside her Rhymes Won’t Wait Collective companions) opened the show inside the greenhouse, easing the audience in with some humorous bits of poetry.

The panel discussion followed (see pic below), compared by the lovely Maleena Pone – a session that pitted three sides of the climate action spectrum: Laura Trevelyan from Christian Aid who engage politicians and other networks in climate justice for the developing world, Raj Malhi from the UKYCC (UK Youth Climate Change Coalition) who rally up and educate young people on the issue, and Dan Glass, representing for Plane Stupid who take a direct action approach (meaning occupying power stations and airport runways is no qualm for the Plane Stupid activists).

Expertise in the different fields shone through, each stating personal struggles, successes, hopes and apprehensions. In the end, there was no gold, silver or bronze medals awarded, just three golden stars as each panellist stated different methods work for different audiences, and that we’re on the right track as long as the climate action movement is growing and constantly on the radar.

Recycle? Lobby your MP? Cycle to work? Create a youth-led flashmob? Convert the naysayers? Educate the ignorant? Get climate change in the national curriculum? Shut down a carbon spewing factory? The ball’s in your court.

The rest of the night was a music and spoken word fest – as I shed weight trying to catch each act running from the greenhouse in the garden to the room upstairs. Nick Lee provided some acoustic tunes, Becca Bland set a nice vibe with extracts from her upcoming novel, Pete the Temp (above) rocked the greenhouse with some sing-a-long anthems, there was a bit of folk by Martha Rose, some brilliant poetry by carbon footprint analyst and writer Danny Chivers, Yomi aka G.R.E.Ed.S (below) got everyone swaying with his guitar accompanied poetry, and finally (but far from least), Nick Mulvey closed the evening with a show-stopping (literally) set – which included his version of a Congolese beat; I doubt anyone understood a word of the Lingala verses – but it was soul-filling nonetheless.

The after party at Favela Chic in Old Street, together with Brazilian hip hop and rounds of Mojitos, meant it was a fabulous Thursday - albeit a heavy one, with a painful Friday morning as a follow-up.

£4 entry? For the Greenhouse Effect? Well worth the hangover.

Photos: Tekla Balfour

If you’re into the green life (in any way) I recommend checking out the Farm: Shop:
20 Dalston Lane
City of London
E8 3AZ

Or call:
020 3490 5124

This is also published on the Media Trust Community Channel