Keren Dunaway-Gonzalez, 12, received a standing ovation after delivering a powerful speech at the inauguration of the International AIDS conference in Mexico City this past week. Gonzalez, a dimpled little girl with braces, shared the stage with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon while she spoke about what it’s like to be a child growing up with HIV.
“The boys and girls who live with HIV are here and we are growing up with many goals,” Keren said. “We want to be artists, teachers, doctors - even get married and have kids. ... But achieving these goals will only be possible when we receive the attention we need, when we are guaranteed the medicines that we need, when we are accepted in schools.”
Although she is young, Gonzalez has become one of Latin America’s most well known AIDS activists. She is breaking the silence for the underrepresented community of children living with HIV. Despite the fear of possible rejection from peers and classmates, she has learned to overcome every obstacle placed in her path. Her experience has led her to visit a many countries so she can share her inspirational story and her message: You are not alone. With her parent’s assistance, Gonzalez created Llavecitas (Little Keys) Magazine, a children's version of her parents adult AIDS advocacy publication Llaves. Together they distribute 10,000 copies every two months across Honduras. Gonzalez shared how her parents used drawings to explain to their then five-year-old daughter that she would be living with the HIV virus for the rest of her life. “It's like a little ball that has little dots, and is inside me, sort of swimming inside me,” Keren described to AP a few days before the conference.
According to the 2008 U.N. AIDS report, approximately 45% of people infected with HIV are between the ages of 15-24. As the number of HIV positive young people increases, it is vital that activists like Gonzalez help give them a voice. Maria Villanueva Medina, a psychologist working with Casa de la Sal, an advocacy group that runs and orphanage for HIV positive children in Mexico City, says children with the virus “Live in a culture of secrecy. They can't talk about their diagnosis in the school because they can be kicked out. They can't talk about it in their communities with their neighbors.”
A financial contributor of the orphanage, Joe Cristina of the L.A bases Children Affected by AIDS Foundation says the need is “to start getting young people involved in leadership again in HIV and AIDS because it's easy to get kind of complacent.” This is something that Keren Gonzalez has been working on for years through her weekly editorial update of Llavecitas. The high-spirited young Latina is an inspiration to many for her dedication to motivate those around her to make change, “Sometimes I have so much fun that I forget I have this virus,” says Gonzalez.