Meeting Nelson Mandela inspired AIDS activist
Henry Luyombya, who has been fighting the stigma around HIV/AIDS, draws inspiration from a meeting with Nelson Mandela in 2003.
Henry Luyombya, who came to Canada from Uganda, met Nelson Mandela in 2003 when he was campaigning for people with HIV and AIDS. Luyombya met the former South African president at his home in Johannesburg, one of four youth activists sitting down with the statesman for a documentary.
By: By: Joel Eastwood Staff Reporter
Dec 08 2013 - Nelson Mandela's death marked the end of a legendary life.
Henry Luyombya sees Mandela's passing as a starting point.
"What next?" Luyombya asked. "What can we do so that this gentleman - this freedom fighter, this statesman, who came from
prisoner to president - how can we carry on his legacy?"
An activist at the Regent Park Community Health Centre, Luyombya draws inspiration from Mandela in his battles against the
stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.
It was an important issue for Mandela, whose eldest son died of AIDS in 2005.
"He was very passionate about HIV/AIDS," Luyombya said. "He himself had been personally affected, having lost many loved ones."
Luyombya, 33, has been waging his own campaign against the immunodeficiency disease for most of his life. His efforts earned
him a meeting with Mandela in 2003.
Luyombya met the former South African president at his home in Johannesburg, one of four youth activists sitting down with
the statesman for a documentary. Luyombya said what Mandela told him made a lasting impression.
"HIV stigma sometimes kills human beings faster than the disease itself," Luyombya said, relaying Mandela's words. "If we
are to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Canada and globally, we need to address HIV stigma."
It's a stigma Luyombya knows firsthand.
Born and raised in a small district outside Kampala, the capital of Uganda, Luyombya lost his father to AIDS.
Then, at 22, Luyombya tested positive for HIV.
He tried to keep his condition secret, telling only a few friends.
"Unfortunately, it ended up being news in the community," he said. "That struck me hard."
Isolated by his friends and community, he joined support groups and began pushing back by educating others about the
terrible disease, talking about HIV prevention, condom use, and the importance of getting testing.
But there were setbacks. Funding for his youth radio programs was cut. When Luyombya raised LGBT issues on television,
authorities told him that he couldn't talk about those issues in Uganda.
When he met with Mandela, Luyombya asked how he faced the hardships of a brutal and discriminatory regime.
"He told me that was very tough," Luyombya said. "But those hardships, they managed to mobilize men and women to overcome."
Luyombya said Mandela was humble, reluctant to take credit for the changes in South Africa.
"I also remember him telling me, 'I did not do this alone,' " Luyombya said.
"My name might be out there, but that is not true. I worked with young men and women," he said Mandela told him.
Luyombya said he applies those lessons to his own efforts, working to build a collective of people.
In 2005 Luyombya moved to Canada and became a citizen. He now lives in Scarborough and aims to continue honouring Mandela's
legacy by tackling HIV/AIDS and the stigma around it.
"It's a terminal illness, just like tuberculosis or cancer. We need to fight it as a collective, as a nation, so we don't
only talk about it during World AIDS Day," Luyombya said.
"Those of us living with HIV, we live with it every day."
"Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services"
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