That’s all folks………

All four of us made it back home safely, suitably tired, slightly malnourished and energized by what we saw.  For this final blog we thought it would be fun to conduct an interview with the four of us – the only odd thing is that I will be interviewing myself.

What project inspired you the most and why?

Georgia:  I loved going to see FAAD in Lilongwe, Malawi. There was so much boundless energy in the room of a group of 40 or so kids who were genuinely excited to come in and learn. But it also made me realise just how hard FAAD’s job is. Their project is to support the human rights of LGBTs, and yet half the kids they talked to in the room that day believed that not only is it ok to discriminate against LGBTs, but that you actually should. And their basis for saying so was because of their religious beliefs – they were all quoting the bible at each other. While FAAD are only 6 months into their grant with us, from spending time with them and seeing the work that they do, and the way the kids were engaged listening to them, I have a lot of hope that, while it will be slow, they will be able to change the minds of the young people within the community – through their debates, the drama they put on, and the conversations they have directly with the audience. 

Sara:  MAAYGO was always the project I was most looking forward to visiting to visit and to see them in action was fantastic. They are doing incredible work for the LGBT community in Kisumu and it’s a thankless task. They inspired me so much because they have put up with years of harassment, been beaten up, humiliated and shunned just for who they are and for trying to make things better for their peers. And yet they carry on. And they are having an important impact, making things better for themselves and other MSM. On top of this they do their work with smiles on their faces. Saying goodbye to them was tough, they’ve left a real impression on me. 

Covi:  I was most inspired by Development Concept’s social enterprise. They are creating an Internet cafe, which if it works will plug a huge gap for Internet in the Malawian market. What really amazed me however was how seamlessly they mixed HIV/AIDS prevention into this project, making people pass an HIV related quiz before losing into the computer. The project was hugely creative and seemed to me to have a huge amount of potential, both in creating profit and a positive social impact.

John: It is very hard to isolate any one grantee as they all inspired me but if I had to pick one then Kisumu Disabled table egg production social enterprise grabbed my attention.  As I was involved in raising the funds and selecting the grantees, I felt a real affinity towards Mildred and Joseph.  They were one of MTV Staying Alive’s first grantees and they had always dreamed of building a self-sustaining egg production operation.  Their passion and energy behind this business was so obvious.  I am sure there will be ups and downs but I believe they have found a genuine gap in the market that will enable them to serve their market efficiently and generate real profits so they can continue to support their HIV prevention efforts in Kisumu.  

What one event or interaction from the trip can you isolate that will stand out as an indelible moment you will never forget.

Georgia:  Watching Covi confidently give a condom demonstration in front of 40 young sex workers and MSM… that was quite a moment for me!  I also loved our Sunday afternoon spent on the River Shire as the sun went down, spotting elephants, crocs and hippos… that was pretty cool!

Sara: That’s a tough one! I will definitely not forget doing a female condom demo in front of loads of kids and sex workers in a hurry. But meeting the doctor in kisumu was eye opening. Hearing about the 19% infection rate with MSM rates likely to be much, much higher and the fact that health workers are often perpetrators of discrimination against gay men, was sobering. But I also came away from that meeting with hope because there are people willing to fight against these issues. 

Covi:  One interaction which has stuck in my mind since the trip is with the head of one of the projects in Kenya. He explained to us that he was very sad, because a group of 7 men (despite him being a tall man) had attacked and raped him because of his sexuality. Then when he went to seek medical help and get tested he was told that they don’t test homosexual men. He projected a real sense of sadness when he told us the story and it really helped me to understand how difficult it must be for a gay man living in a society that frequently discriminates against him.

John:  I have to say I have been incredibly impressed by the young leaders we have met throughout this trip.  Whether it be our grantees themselves or the young leaders they have chosen to lead their group discussions.  In every community we have seen youth fully engaged, articulate, willing to offer an opinion in a very clear and mature way.  Their answers may sometimes not be what we would like to hear but at least they are comfortable sharing their thoughts.  These youngsters are opinionated, confident and willing to learn.

What does being part of MTV Staying Alive Foundation mean to you? How does it impact your everyday life 

Georgia:  This is so hard to answer simply. As the co-Founder of MTV SAF, I’ve seen it grow from a germ of an idea, into something that today, has impact on both the macro level (with MTV Shuga) and the micro, with our grantees working in the square miles of their communities. I’m so proud of our grantees – we don’t design the programmes for them to run – they do; these young leaders have an innate understanding of what will work within their community; and they have passion and ambition to ensure that they work. The Foundation itself is a very small charity, but it packs a mighty punch. We have a small, 5 1/2 person team in London, each of whom are passionate about what we do (and each are brilliant in what they do!); and we have an incredible army of young leaders on the ground who are making genuine positive changes in their communities and who are supported by being able to use the MTV SAF brand. Day by day, MTV SAF and all our grantees, are building up a strong legacy that I am already so proud of. And trips like these enable us to work directly with our grantees, and always asking the question at our end: what can we do better? What more can we do to support them?

What does being part of MTV SAF mean to me? I know that I have one of the absolute best jobs in the world…I’m not really sure how it happened, but I’m hugely thankful that it did.  

Why has HIV been somewhat forgotten as an issue in the developed world?
Covi: I feel that HIV is a forgotten issue mainly because of the creation of ARVs. They amazingly allow people with the virus to continue living full lives, but this means that people are no longer as afraid of HIV in the international community. This of course forest the adverse effects of living on ARVs. To add to this, the cause of fighting HIV/AIDS appears to have become less fashionable over the years and so, as funding fades, so too does global concern over the issue of HIV.

What motivates you to work with MTV Staying Alive? What has been your experience being part of the board? 

John:  As Georgia just said, this is a small charity that packs a mighty punch.  I stumbled across MTV Staying Alive and found something very special where I felt I could truly help them amplify their message so that they could secure a broader base of funding and ultimately help more people.  These are highly talented, motivated and creative people who are quietly building an incredible charity.  Sometimes you need people like me from the outside to be their cheerleader.  I take no credit for anything they do, but I can brag about their achievements and say the things they are too humble to share.  

I have only very recently joined the board.  I believe serving on a board is an honor, I have set myself a high bar to deliver as a board member and don’t want to let anyone down.  The composition of the board is impressive, I know I will learn a lot from my fellow board members and look forward to helping MTV Staying Alive continue their amazing work.  

What did you learn at the International AIDS conference that you could bring to this trip?

Georgia:  The IAC is a conference of 20,000+ people desperate for space to talk about their projects and network with others. But what always comes out of these conferences are the statistics: this year, we now know that the death rate due to AIDS of adolescents has increased by 50% (whereas all other demographics have decreased by up to 35%); and that adolescent girls are most at risk: a 15-19 yr old girl in S Africa is 8x as likely to be infected as a boy that age. But what was great about the trip was being able to take the stats and seeing them IRL. It’s one thing to talk about the HIV prevalence rate in Kisumu being 19% (general population) – but then actually seeing 1 in 3 kids (mostly MSMs) who tested while we were there, testing +ve makes the statistics very very real.

Covi:  I learnt that the voices of young people are more important than ever before. I heard countless times at the conference leaders calling for the next generation to take up the mantle and the fight and that this is the only way we will see an end to AIDS. For this reason, going to the conference made me realise how important these youth led projects are, especially in galvanising a prevention movement in more rural areas, where it is far easier for the locals to make a big impact within their community rather than large international organisations. 

Why is it so important to visit a sub set of MTV Staying Alive grantees?

Sara:  We need to educate people about HIV and what MTV Staying Alive is doing to prevent it and the best way is to see it for ourselves. I also think our Grantees are all so different you need to visit multiple projects to get a real sense of how young people are addressing HIV prevention in the most culturally relevant ways. 

As the Director of Fundraising what are the challenges in raising funds for an HIV focused charity?

Sara:  As we heard a lot on our trip, there is still so much misinformation about HIV out there and that’s not just the case in Africa. People in the UK often think HIV/AIDS is a solved problem so giving money to the issue seems irrelevant to them. I think that’s one of the hardest things – we have to educate people about why this is important. Unless you’ve seen it for yourself it’s not necessarily an issue most people consider supporting. Also getting people to understand the importance of prevention can be tricky. I find people want tangible but emotive issues/stories to support so it might be easier say if we were raising money to fund medical treatment for people living with HIV. But I like a challenge and visiting projects as we’ve just done, and writing things like the blog are all part of educating people and trying to gain support for what we’re doing. 

Describe each of your three travel companions with 3 emojis

Georgia:

Covi  – 🤓👶🏻😂❤️

John  – 📠🏃🏻🐣

Sara  – 🍤💪🏼💵

Sara:
Covi – 🍔👾📸

John – 🗽🏃🏻📲

Georgia -💃🏻💅🎙

Covi:
John – 🤓⌚️🍛

Mum – 👠🍏🗣

Sarah – 🕵🏻🚉💸

John:

Georgia – 👑 💅😎

Sara – 🛩🍪😀

Covi – 🤓🍕🎮

John – in your opening blog you referenced your search for the special one(s) – well?

Mission accomplished – I found a number of special people and I told them what I thought.  They know who they are and I am a better person for meeting them.

Thank you everyone for reading our blog, for sending us private notes, public likes and ❤️s.  

If anyone wants to learn more about the work of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation please go to http://www.mtvstayingalive.org/about-us/ for more information.

Georgia, Sara, John and Covi

London and New York – 28th July, 2016

Selection of some my favorite photos

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