I was seven years old at a teen health clinic in Mexico City the first time I heard “AIDS”. I was too young to absorb anything other than the graphic posters, the condoms and the bananas. Five years later, I found myself starring the disease in the face at rural clinics in Ethiopia. There, I felt the realness of it all: the fear, the pain, the loss, and the frustration. At 16, I went back to Mexico City for the XVII International AIDS Conference. I heard storytellers, leading experts, and scientists speak of hope.
Last year I wrote a story for my high school sports magazine about HIV positive athletes, hoping to raise awareness in any way I could. I found both inspiration in HIV positive athletes who have moved out from under a dark cloud of stigma, and ignorance in student athletes at my high school who still believed that HIV could be transmitted through sweat. We’ve grown up less than 40 miles from the epicenter of the AIDS crisis in the US, yet are still oblivious to the issue. Where I come from, HIV/AIDS is still seen as a red ribbon and known as Africa’s problem.
Today, I am 18. I have lived most of my life in a five block radius, in four different houses, one public high school, and now a world class university. I just completed my first week of classes at Stanford, joined an a capella group, became a manager of the soccer team, and signed up for FACE AIDS, a club that I had been president of at my high school. While everyone tells me that it’s okay to be undecided, I have to admit that the fact that I have no idea what I want to major in is a little scary. Though I am uncertain of many things, I am sure about my passion to raise HIV/AIDS awareness. I know that I am still young and have a lot to learn, but I have a voice and I hope to use that voice for what I believe in.