Speech’s story: “People believe if you’re living with HIV you can’t have a life - but you can”

Speech speaking into a microphone

The next story in our Think Positive series is from Speech, also known as ‘The Dreamer’ amongst his friends. He’s 24-years-old and has been a youth reporter with Children’s Radio Foundation for a year.

Growing up, Speech didn’t learn much about HIV and says there were a lot of myths, rumours and stigma about the virus in his community because of a lack of education amongst young people.

He says: “There is huge stigma in townships on HIV. People believe you can’t have a family with a person living with HIV, people don’t know you can be in a relationship, they just think HIV is a death sentence. People believe if you’re living with HIV you can’t have a life, but you can.”

Speech is passionate about challenging these attitudes and passing on all that he has learned to his peers. He does this through a weekly one-hour radio show with the Children’s Radio Foundation, which is funded by Comic Relief and M·A·C AIDS Fund.

The radio show is broadcast live within a health clinic in Khayelitsha every Wednesday and Speech is one of a group of 10 young people who run the show together so that young people waiting for services benefit from hearing and joining conversations about important health issues. This includes talking openly about HIV stigma, raising awareness of HIV prevention, treatment and safe sex.

Speech says: “Sometimes you can’t just go up to young people and speak to them in a professional hard way that makes them feel uncomfortable. You’ll push them away if you’re saying ‘let’s talk about this hard topic in a hard way’ - that gives people an image that they don’t want to talk about.

“But if we offer the youth what they want, it’s easier for them to open up to us. We give the radio show a youthful feel, an entertainment feel.”

The young reporters, like Speech, design the whole radio show themselves and go out into their communities to ask other young people what they would like to hear about, before putting together a fun, interactive radio show with guest speakers, performers and quizzes.

Speech says: “I learned about HIV at the Children’s Radio Foundation. I knew bits from school but there was never as much information given out as the radio station does. I want to tell other young people that dreams come true and knowledge is power. You can’t call yourself a person who knows things if you’re not willing to learn about things around you.

“People become so surprised when they learn that young people are engaging with these topics such as HIV, and the radio show is so important in this. A lot of attitudes change because of the radio show.”

Xolani Kondile, who helps to run the radio programme, said: “Children’s Radio Foundation is a home for young people who want to be changemakers and who care about issues in their communities. Young people really matter in conversations and we are a chance for them to have a voice in the issues that affect them.”

In 2017, Comic Relief and M∙A∙C AIDS Fund, the charitable arm of M∙A∙C Cosmetics, came together to tackle HIV and AIDS. In partnership, they have provided £2 million in grants to organisations working with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities across sub-Saharan Africa and the UK. Grants are focused on improving the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS, and funding innovative approaches to increase prevention, care and support, and access to treatment.