This is a guest post from Julia Lindau, news producer and volunteers for Generation Ubuntu.
There’s a fair chance you know someone in the US living with HIV. More than a million Americans are positive. But you may not be aware your friend, neighbor or colleague has the virus, because medicines like ARVs are widely available and easily accessible in the US, and they allow people with HIV here to live long, healthy lives.
In South Africa it’s a different story. There are more people living with HIV/AIDS there — almost 7 million — than in any other country. Many of them do not have access to the crucial lifesaving drugs that make the disease manageable. That’s especially true for disadvantaged children: orphans, kids whose parents are living with HIV, and children living in poverty.
This is where Generation Ubuntu comes in. The organization improves the health and well-being of children and teens living with HIV in South Africa through a comprehensive care model of health and nutrition, psycho-social support, HIV and life skills education, and community engagement. At Generation Ubuntu, HIV is no longer a death sentence; it is a manageable condition. We enable children to live full, successful and meaningful lives.
Whitney Johnson started the organization a decade ago. She studied abroad in Cape Town and saw a critical gap in HIV services for young people in the city’s townships (slums). No one was helping them; they had nowhere to go to help themselves; and to exacerbate their dire situation, their community often excluded them. Whitney returned to the US to finish studying, but went back to South Africa as soon as she graduated to serve the children who desperately needed someone to champion their cause.
I was Generation Ubuntu’s first fellow in 2009. When I arrived, we served 30 children in the back of a crumbling church with weeds growing through the floorboards. Even with limited resources, I witnessed Generation Ubuntu’s incredible power. Yes, its social workers and caregivers go out into the community to make sure they are reaching the most vulnerable children. Yes, its health and education professionals ensure the kids take life-saving drugs. Yes, the cooks serve a full, nutritious meal to children who may not otherwise eat all day. But what I witnessed at Generation Ubuntu was more profound than that. It gives young people living with HIV a safe, supportive community, and it shifts their mindset from “I’m doomed to live a short, unhappy and sickly life” to “I can do absolutely anything I want because I am strong, smart, and healthy”. Through love, Generation Ubuntu transforms kids. They start believing in and loving themselves.
Today, Generation Ubuntu helps more than 200 kids and teenagers a year. It’s still doing the same incredible work, just in a nicer building with a few more resources. And the impact is clear. Every single child who has regularly attended the program is not only living, but healthy and thriving.
That’s why I’m back, helping the organization 6 years later. I have been involved with non-profits for almost a decade, but none impacts the community it serves like Generation Ubuntu. Saving lives and spreading love — it’s what “Ubuntu” is all about.
About Julia Lindau:
Julia Lindau is a news producer and volunteers for Generation Ubuntu.