Worldwide there are now 37 million people infected with HIV, including nearly 4 million children and, last year alone, there were 350,000 new diagnoses amongst children. In my previous blogs I've written about coming to terms with my HIV within the context of the workplace in the UK, as well as LGBT bullying in schools. In my forthcoming autobiography "Positive Damage" I elaborate further on how co-infection with HIV and Hep C impacted me and how, even in a wealthy and progressive society, I felt stigmatised, at times, on account of my HIV. However, regarding HIV it is important to emphasise that this is a truly global crisis, affecting rich and poor countries alike, impacting people both gay and straight, a killer which does not discriminate, and it is only by standing united that we can face this terrifying challenge.
It was with a spring in my step that I made my way to Jemima Khan's Halloween Ball in aid of Unicef UK at the end of October 2014, which raised an extraordinary £750,000 to help children affected by conflict in Syria. I wore black leggings and a silver mask to make a fantastical, albeit not very frightening, ghoul-a superhero-horror hybrid! Jemima has done an amazing amount to help Unicef UK and has been an ambassador for 13 years. She had recently returned from Jordan, where she observed the incredible work Unicef does to help Syrian children impacted by the conflict. She met a 17-year-old boy named Adil, who left Syria as a refugee. He wants to become a civil engineer and Unicef is helping children like Adil continue their education, so that they too may pursue their dreams. At the party the guests shared a common goal: to raise money and awareness for vulnerable Syrian children in danger. This public display of support and the conversations I had with people there, all passionate about fighting for the rights of the vulnerable children of the world, inspired me to think more about my own philanthropy and how I could do more to help Unicef UK.
As well as helping children impacted by the conflict in Syria, Unicef also does a tremendous amount to combat HIV and challenge misconceptions surrounding this illness around the world. At a recent lunch with Sarah and Katie from Unicef UK, two inspiring women, I heard more about how HIV impacts young people in South Africa. They recount painful stories of grief and alienation, but also of profound and inspirational hope. It is hard to comprehend how difficult it must be to lose parents to AIDS, to be diagnosed as HIV-positive and then to be stigmatised.
I was particularly inspired by the work Unicef is doing through their "Isibindi" project, which aptly means "courage" in Zulu. South Africa continues to be the most affected country in the world in terms of absolute numbers. There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa-close to half of them have lost their parents to AIDS related diseases. Isibindi workers ensure the safety and well-being of children through regular visits to homes and accompanying them to schools and check-up to clinics and hospitals. Isibindi safe parks have also been created where children and adolescents are supervised after school hours. The parks include shelters, play equipment, toys and a youth run garden: these islands of hope seek to give children back their childhoods by involving them in education and playful activities.
I heard one young boy's story which particularly stood out. Nufolo was orphaned by HIV and AIDS and was taken in by his aunt. However, instead of entering the loving environment that he craved, Nufolo was treated like a domestic slave and abused. His aunt was made the beneficiary of Nufolo's monthly childcare grant, but this money was not used properly to feed or dress him. His health deteriorated, he struggled to perform his chores and instead of compassion and love he received further abuse from his family. Nufolo's education also suffered as he could barely stay awake during lessons and quickly fell behind. After visiting Nufolo, the care workers immediately recognised his vulnerable state and helped return him to his elder sister's home. This was daunting for his sister, as she had no idea how to care for a young boy. However, the Isibindi workers committed to give both Nufolo and his sister the support and advice they needed.
Unicef is working tirelessly to bring hope, aspiration and, most importantly, love, back into these children's lives. I am committing one per cent of the profits from "Positive Damage" to Unicef's vital work. I feel that, despite living with HIV and Hep C, I have still been able to live a fairy tale. This New Year I implore you to spare a thought for vulnerable children all over the world who urgently need Unicef's help and donate a few pounds to Unicef and help transform a child's future, allowing them to achieve their dreams.