The new face of HIV

By Suzanne Cheavens

Nelson Mandela said it most eloquently, “Ubuntu is that profound African sense that we are only human through the humanity of other human beings.”

Generation Ubuntu is a non-profit located in South Africa, one that lives that philosophy through its work with children living with HIV. Ubuntu was the organization tapped in 2014 by the Telluride AIDS Benefit to receive donations made by patrons of the fashion show, an appeal made each night by TAB’s co-founder, Ron Gilmer. The results were astounding and TAB raised $68,000. Whitney Johnson, Ubuntu’s CEO and Founder, took a moment from her busy schedule to catch up with TAB and share just how those dollars were put to use.

TAB - What does money donated in Telluride mean for the young people you serve? What is a specific instance of a goal you were able to achieve as a result of TAB’s donation? 

WJ - It’s hard to even start to explain the multitude of ways the money donated in Telluride has impacted the children of Generation Ubuntu. For many of them it literally means everything. For a start, the money that TAB donated has translated into children receiving medical care for infections that could have killed them, it has protected children from abuse and neglect, and it has given them support and love that has lifted their spirits and boosted their confidence. We were able to achieve our goal of more efficiently managing a high caseload by hiring professional and experienced staff members in our Health and Social Work departments.  

What do you see as your greatest need(s)?  

Despite the staggering numbers of children and teens living with HIV in South Africa this population has been largely overlooked and ignored. We need the world to know that these children exist and we need funders to pay attention and not turn their backs on this disease. HIV is a treatable condition – children living with HIV should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams like every other child – they should not be struggling with HIV alone and they should not be dying. 

What are your biggest dreams? 

At our center we have a “Tree of Dreams” painted on our wall and each child has written down their dreams on a “leaf” for that tree. My biggest dream is that these children (and all children living with HIV) can fulfill all of their big dreams. 

What keeps you optimistic? 

The children at Generation Ubuntu. It is their spirit of hope and unwavering optimism that keeps me going! I am especially optimistic about our ability to change the course of this epidemic in South Africa when I see kids in our program teaching their families about the importance of taking their medication properly, bravely speaking out about stigma in their communities, and teenagers mentoring the younger kids in the program. They are change agents that are chipping away at the deadly myths and paralyzing stigma that exists in their country. They are strong and empowered – they are the new face of HIV in South Africa – and they are paving the way for a generation that could so easily have been lost.