HIV-positive with a Life-affirming Message to Share
18 year-old Alin makes short anti-discrimination videos for a national youth television station in Romania.
Alin shares with the Romanian masses what is often difficult for him to share with close friends: his HIV-positive status. As a contestant in a photo contest 'The World Through my Eyes' for HIV-positive youth funded by USAID and implemented by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., and UNOPA (National Union of Organizations of People Affected/Infected by HIV and AIDS), Alin found a voice with which he now creates anti-discrimination video spots for a popular youth television station in Romania.
Alin is 18 years-old, and has known he was HIV-positive since he was very young. As a child his experience with HIV was limited to diligently taking his pills and trying to be a typical kid. He grew up in a small town in Giurgiu County, south of the capital of Bucharest, and he believes that he is fortunate to have parents who have always supported him. Despite the love and care from his family, Alin began to struggle with his health and HIV status when he was about 14. He was forced to leave high school because of health problems and was in and out of hospitals for two years. During this time he met the pain of stigmatization when he says he found that "there were some people who didn't want to touch me, didn't want to sit next to me."
Alin emerged from this "time of darkness" feeling empowered to change something about the way Romanians —and youth in particular— interact with HIV-positive individuals. With this new sense of power, Alin found an outlet for expression in the photo contest in 2006.
As a winner of the contest Alin received support from USAID, JSI, and UNOPA to create a series of 20 three-to-five minute video spots which deliver HIV and AIDS antidiscrimination messages. He received equipment and training from a producer/editor from the local film industry. Each of the spots is followed by a brief statement from a Romanian personality popular with youth such as pop stars and music television VJs. Alin says that the opportunity to make the video spots has helped him to "discover a method to share my feelings, and it's a good way to show my feelings to other people—because in that moment, with the images, the music, and the context—it can change the mentality of people."
Alin's approach to encouraging change is very much an extension of his experiences and personality. His videos and photos gently inspire thoughts of tranquility, warmth, security, and hope. He doesn't want to elicit either sympathy for HIV-positive individuals or incite fear. Alin's idea is to coax viewers to imagine HIV-positive individuals' lives woven with vitality and hope. At the same time, he also communicates the sadness and loneliness that result from discrimination. There is one particularly poignant image in one of his videos of an empty bench with the words, "the bench where we used to sit 'now is empty'." This image is inspired by Alin's memory of one of his best friends who became distant and cold after learning about Alin's status. The two boys used to sit on a bench in their neighborhood talking and watching cars drive by.
While his videos are airing on national TV, Alin can be found back at school, at home on his computer working on his next video, reading, or out with friends. Initially nervous about being a spokesperson for HIV-positive youth in Romania, he has met many other HIV-positive people through his participation with this project. He now understands that his struggles are very similar to others he has met, finding difficult hospitalizations and discrimination to be common themes. Alin has inspired many to pause and think. His advice to his audience of HIV-positive and negative individuals? "Every morning you have to wake up and shout 'I am alive!'"
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