By Josephine Agbonkhese
On December 1, 2018, Mrs Ifeoma Theodore Jnr Ezeobi, a writer, sex awareness advocate and staunch lover of teenagers and young adults, released video clips of three HIV-positive young adults who shared their tales of hope and implored the world to shun stigmatization, in commemoration of World Aids Day 2018. Titled ‘HIV Among Adolescents, Teens and Young Adults, the video clips released through Ifeoma’s website and YouTube channel was produced in English and several Nigerian and international languages.
The author of two books, ‘My Daughters and I’ and ‘Trapped in Oblivion’, who has used her writings and speeches to mentor school children and young adults, discloses, in this interview, that her mission is ensuring that harmful practices such as stigmatization, teenage pregnancy, child molestation, rape and peer pressure, among others, that undermine the humanity of adolescents, are exposed and prevented.
What’s your mission on this project?
My mission on this project is to allow these young ones to tell their stories because they remain our future leaders whose interests and aspirations must be taken into consideration. I am saddened that government agencies that have the responsibility of seeing to the plights of children only give statistics about how bad the situation has been. They are never interested in taking concrete actions to rescue the situation. If statistics have deterred people, then there should be a decrease and not an increase in new cases.
…but how were you able to convince those young adults to shun fear and openly speak about their status?
I didn’t have to do anything of such; they were personally inspired to share their stories. It however began with a visit I made to a local government health centre in Lagos where I gave out some of my books, including ‘Trapped in Oblivion’, to adolescents who had tested positive to HIV/AIDs. After that visit, I later received calls from some of them who disclosed how the books had touched them and inspired them to relay their plights to the society.
They told me how they were living with HIV/AIDs, and for how long they have had it. Those who have watched the video clips confessed that they never knew that there are young people who are living with HIV, and that they had thought that the scourge was only meant for older people. Most of them said it was the first time they’d seen people admitting to having the virus.
Let us talk about the book which led to such inspiration and courage to declare one’s HIV status; what ran through your mind when you penned down ‘Trapped in Oblivion’?
‘Trapped in Oblivion’ is a book which addresses many moral issues as well as stigmatization against teenagers and young adults. When I penned down the book, I didn’t know it would come this far. Personally, it has been a healing process for me too. I went through a major ordeal in the hands of my in-laws. When we talk about stigmatization, people only think it is those who have AIDs that are stigmatized; but we are all stigmatized in some ways—either by our background or status and so on.
These children have been an inspiration to me; not to keep my life experiences locked in but to rather speak out. We are made to feel ashamed about the life challenges we go through, by people who also go through life challenges of their own. For me, just like these kids, stigmatization by my in-laws, due to lack of early childbirth for eleven years, caused some form of psychological trauma.
My books, ‘Trapped in Oblivion’ and ‘My daughters and I’, have garnered recognition and endorsements from notable organizations like, United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA; United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF; Department for International Development, DFID; National Agency for AIDs (NACA), The Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, NERDC; and the Nigerian Ministry of Education. They have also been approved for use in schools and are in fact already in use by schools in some states.
To you, what do the young adults who appeared in the video represent?
Success, Seun and Esther, the young adults in the video, have shown immeasurable bravery, and should be encouraged and lauded; not stigmatized. They represent millions of adolescents and young adults who are looking forward to living a life free from stigmatization. It could be a rape survivor, domestic violence victim, a teen mum, or HIV positive youth. They also want an agenda that would protect them and their interest. I think political parties should put adolescents, and young adults into consideration, and not just by promising free education, but also an agenda that will protect their wellbeing.
What is significant about the date you released the video; why not delay it until 2019?
December 1, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the first reported case of HIV/AIDs. Nigeria happens to be the country with the second largest number of people living with HIV/AIDs. It’s an epidemic. I wasn’t expecting the government to do anything, and I felt it was only right to do something to commemorate December 1, and align with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, UNAIDS, theme “Know your status”.
You appear to have a strong bias for young people…
I am not just an author but also the voice of teenagers and young adults. My mission is to ensure young people live in a better society. It’s disappointing that adolescents and young adults who have celebrities and artists as their role models, are yet to benefit from a meaningful show that will not only entertain them, but also educate them. These celebrities have the power to enlighten youths but what we get instead is just concerts without content on the well-being of youths. It doesn’t though always have to be education, but sometimes it would be nice. Have they thought of some sort of artists’ collaboration to release some music that will heal and educate our young ones? That should be food for thought for them.
Companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi and others are not left out. Majority of their loyal customers are adolescents and young adults. Music which they spend millions sponsoring is wonderful though; musical events and concerts, accompanied by content, nourish the soul. Actors also have a huge role to play enlightening our young ones on their well-being.
Churches and mosques are not left out. Imagine they engaged their congregation on the importance of stopping stigmatization in every form. They can use instances of the stigmatization early prophets and disciples went through to buttress their point, and even go further to relate with people who have been stigmatized; especially people living with HIV/AIDs. Just imagine what would happen.