I am alive: Stories for the Alliance’s 20th anniversary

Our final plenary session at our 20th Anniversary Convention was both moving and inspirational. Chaired by Rhulani Lehloka, Executive Director of the South African AIDS Consortium, individuals shared their personal stories from the last twenty years of the AIDS response. Many things have changed.

Here is a small selection.

George Zeidenstein, founding chair of the Alliance

“Greetings to all of you participating in the 20th Anniversary Convention. I was one of the attendants at the Alliance’s birth in 1994. Before that, I participated in its conception and gestation. Afterwards, until my retirement from the Board of Trustees in the autumn of 2006, I was active in its post-partum activity and development. I had hoped to be among you during this 20th Anniversary Convention but was not able to manage the travel.”

Read George’s full anniversary message here.

Marcella Romero, Regional Coordinator, REDLACTRANS (Alliance regional partner)

“Because of my transgender identity, the police would often arrest me. Those were very difficult times. As a sex worker I have had to endure a lot of violence and discrimination, not only towards myself but toward my sisters. Many of them came to the hospitals to die. Those were very difficult times.

“All of this led me to activism. Through activism I learned the tools to fight against transphobia, violence and discrimination. Many of my sisters who were also activists are no longer with me, a lot of them died from HIV/AIDS. The Alliance has been really important. It has, as I always say, been more of an ally rather than a donor.

“I give my thanks to the activism that allowed me to change many aspects of my life. Today I am certain that getting involved in activism was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Yulia, Ukraine (beneficiary of Alliance for Public Health, Ukraine)

In 2004, world-renowned photographer, Gideon Mendel, visited Ukraine and met and photographed Yulia, a woman drug user and sex worker. Yulia became one of the ‘faces’ of the Alliance appearing in many of our publications. Ten years on, colleagues at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine visited Yulia at the NGO “Club Eney”. In this short video, Yulia tells her own story.


“It is important that there are people like you with a healthy mind and soul – being compassionate and supportive. We cannot make it without you. We are sick people. We need your help. I welcome every day. I am alive,” she says.

"The Alliance has been really important. It has, as I always say, been more of an ally rather than a donor."

— Marcella Romero

Sisonke Msimang, Executive Director of OSISA

“Almost all that I have done in the fight against aids - and it is not nearly enough - has been in service of the grit chutzpah and love of women and men like Prudence.

“Everyone has a Pru, and it is in solidarity with our brilliant mad angry confronting beautiful brothers and sisters living with HIV, that we continue to fight.

“Happy birthday Alliance, long may we all live to fight another day.”

Read Sisonke’s full message here

Shaun Mellors, our Associate Director for Africa

“1986 - Fear, denial, shock, alone, frightened. You have AIDS and six months left to live.

“1988 - Stigma, discrimination, rejection. Decision to go public about HIV status.

“1991 - Empowered, supported, belonging, brave. From victim to victor. International conference for people with living HIV, London, UK.

“1995 - Pride, ambition, strong. Organised International Conference for People Living with HIV, Cape Town, South Africa. Mbeki believed that HIV caused AIDS.

“1996 - Hope, disbelief, emotion. Vancouver AIDS Conference. ARVs. We were going to live - at least some of us were.

“1997 - Anger, frustration. Denied entry into the US due to HIV status.

“2000 - South African pride, involved, relevant. Worked for the International AIDS Conference, Durban, South Africa. Mbeki no longer believed that HIV causes AIDS. Treatment became a reality for most of us.

“2002 - Anger, frustration. Denied entry into Canada due to HIV status.

“2006 - Connected, capacitated, questioning. Joined the International HIV/AIDS Alliance as Senior Advisor on Human Rights.

“2014 - Appreciation, gratitude, anger, frustration, hope. Alive. Challenges and inequities still to overcome; but a world without AIDS becomes a reality.”