Feature story |

Zimbabwe: teenager travels to AIDS 2012 in Washington DC

Photograph by Julie Whitaker
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USA 2012 © MSF

Mqondisi Mkandla is a 17-year-old Zimbabwean boy. He is studying at St Bernard’s High School in Bulawayo, the second biggest city in Zimbabwe. He is an orphan and lives with his grandma on the outskirts of Bulawayo.

Mqondisi is HIV positive. He is receiving treatment and he is very much involved in fighting HIV/AIDS-related stigma. He is part of the Mpilo Teen Club, a support group of teenagers with HIV in the town. In this Club, which was formed in 2004 with MSF’s support, Mqondisi meets with his friends and they do activities together.

These days, Mqondisi is very happy: he recently travelled to the United States to participate in the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC. At AIDS 2012, he explained his own experience and the challenges which adolescents with the virus are facing. Here are his impressions as he prepared for the trip:

How do you feel before heading to Washington?

I am very happy to be able to travel to Washington, which is the first thing I want to say. It is an honour to be a representative of my country at a higher platform as the International AIDS Conference (AIC) in Washington.

Before going to the United States, I am feeling enthusiastic, I feel honoured to be going there as I am going as a representative of the other kids that I am leaving behind. And I am excited because it is my first trip so it is a dream coming true for me. I am happy.

What are your expectations about the International AIDS Conference?

My main expectation in the IAC is that I am personally going to be able to share my life experiences in order to educate others in HIV and AIDS issues. I would like to be a voice of the voiceless, representative of the challenges that the adolescents and children are facing at home. And to learn more about HIV and AIDS related issues.

What is the main message you would like to take to Washington regarding your personal experience?

Looking at my background, the main messages and recommendations I will make at IAC in Washington are: to try to encourage people, mainly adolescents, to go and get tested and to advise them that there is still life after being tested positive.

What did your friends say about the trip? What did they recommend to you?

My friends at home are very excited that I got the chance to go out and represent them and actually share the challenges they are facing in a platform such as the IAC. They are very excited and happy for me travelling as their ambassador or representative.

Why do you think it is important to share your personal stories with others?

I think it is important to share my personal experiences with others so to empower them and to educate them on how to live life stress-free and to look at a brighter future despite the statuses or illnesses they may have.