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A Conversation With LetsStopAIDS Founder Shamin Mohamed Jr.

Young Canadians are working together for meaningful local action…
 
LetsStopAIDS is a youth-driven charity that focuses on HIV prevention and knowledge exchange. The Canadian charity was founded in 2004, by the then-15-year-old Shamin Mohamed Jr., and continues to educate and inspire youth across the country (and the globe!) to take action.
 
We sat down with Mohamed to talk about LetsStopAIDS and their programs, as well as Canada’s largest upcoming youth-HIV conference.
 
How did LetsStopAIDS begin?
When I was 15 years old I went to my principal and told her I wanted to start LetsStopAIDS, and instead of being supportive, she said, “Are you going to start a scam or something?” This leaked out into the media, and eventually made its way to Bill Clinton and Bill Gates at the AIDS Conference.
 
Since then, LetsStopAIDS has grown into Canada’s largest youth-HIV charity focusing on knowledge exchange and HIV prevention. We remain a volunteer-driven charity, with 300+ members across 21 countries.
 
What types of programming or services do you offer?
LetsStopAIDS is ‘glocal.’ We collaborate locally, whether it’s in downtown Toronto or rural townships in Dududu, South Africa. Our projects focus on youth leadership, meaningful engagement, and storytelling. We feel that the only way to make HIV truly history is when we listen. We run LetsStopAIDS as horizontal as possible, so there is an open-door policy for innovation and ideas.
 
For example, in March 2020 as the world entered a global pandemic, LetsStopAIDS launched HeyCOVID19, a 25+-language platform dedicated to providing accurate, shareable public health information about COVID-19. This entire project was brought to life in six days by more than 60 volunteers in 13 countries.
 
Why is it important to have a youth-focused space for people living with HIV?
Because regardless of your gender, social class or religion, there is a biological commonality connecting young people. And when we put these individuals together (even without speaking the same language), we develop something beautiful.
 
Ever been to a conference or event where you’ve felt out of place? Chances are you’d gravitate to someone who’s closer to your age or someone you may be able to relate to.
 
If we do not create these spaces, we are stifling the youth-HIV community, which creates greater anxiety, depression and stigma, which could lead to less innovation. And as we know, innovation, particularly when it comes to treatment and prevention, is an integral part of ending HIV.
 
Tell us about NoTimeToWait. Why is this conference important, and why now?
NoTimeToWait brings young Canadians together to further their knowledge on HIV-related issues and develop the advocacy skills necessary to carry out sustainable initiatives. Since 2014, roughly a quarter of new HIV diagnoses were youth and this has been on a steady rise.
 
Thanks to the support of ViiV Healthcare, NoTimeToWait will be Canada’s largest youth-HIV conference focusing on youth leadership and grassroots activism, specifically focusing on Canadian issues.
 
Why now? Because we just don’t have time to wait. The current framework is not working effectively, because once you’re out of the ‘HIV community bubble’ (campaigns, social media), HIV becomes a rather distant or taboo topic. Until we are each aware about HIV, we won’t be able to create an accepting, inclusive culture of those living with HIV, and understand the meaning behind U=U.
 
What role does technology and innovation play in connecting and supporting people living with HIV?
The second we get comfortable, something is wrong. It means we aren’t connected to who we collaborate with. When things are running too smoothly, it means we aren’t being challenged, so we need to ask more questions.
 
We know Zoom calls can get boring – that’s why we partnered with Hopin to create a unique, beautiful digital space for NoTimeToWait. We also joined forces with local designers across Canada to create a mail-out kit that will include must-have items to ‘survive’ a two-day virtual conference.
 
Technology removes barriers and walls. It allows for the flexibility of anonymity, but also encourages young people to process information on their time, rather than our time. This culture means so much to creating an inclusive virtual community.
 
What type of impact are you hoping comes from NoTimeToWait?
Let’s clear the elephant in the room – I don’t think NoTimeToWait will be a fix-all solution for all of Canada’s youth-HIV issues. But I am confident it will develop fresh faces as ambassadors and leaders, like the then-15-year-old me, to create their own local or national projects.
 
NoTimeToWait is the stepping stone for young Canadians to work together for meaningful local action with others living with HIV. I can’t wait.
 

 
Learn more
To follow LetsStopAIDS on Instagram, visit @LetsStopAIDS. NoTimeToWait will be held on November 21-22, and is open for registration at NoTimeToWait.ca. For more information, you can download an eBook on NoTimeToWait at http://qlll.co/NoTimeToWait.
 

 

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