LetsStopAIDS is a Canadian youth-HIV charity that focuses on HIV prevention and knowledge exchange by engaging young people and fostering leadership.
Since the first case of HIV appeared in Canada in March 1982, activists across the nation have worked tirelessly to mobilize knowledge of the disease, pushing for research and support. By 1991, the Red Ribbon—a worldwide symbol—was introduced to signify AIDS awareness and prevention.
Fast forward to 2004, a then 15-year-old Shamin Mohamed Jr. founded Canadian youth-driven charity LetsStopAIDS to focus on HIV prevention by engaging young people. Today, located in the Toronto Entertainment District is LetsStopAIDS’ Programmes Office where Shamin and his team foster leadership within its rotation of youth volunteers and inspire a knowledge exchange relating to HIV.
“A lot of students at my school were getting pregnant or catching STIs. I wanted to do something about this.” – Shamin Mohamed Jr.
Welcome to LiveLifeLoving, a digital space where young people can share information, stories and learn more about HIV in a safe, supportive and stigma-free forum. As a result of many being uncomfortable with face-to-face interaction, carry shame and/or fear of judgements, LiveLifeLoving will act as a virtual first point of contact to those who’s just found out their status or want to learn more about HIV. Everything from treatment and prevention to dating and sex will be open for discussion! You can stay tuned here.
The main factor in the success of LetsStopAIDS “business” model is the vitality of each volunteer. This is what pushed founder Shamin to move into a physical Programmes Office in 2018. “Our Entertainment District office is used as our innovation hub. We meet with volunteers of all walks of life. The space is always filled – business hours, weekends and late nights. We truly don’t sleep. We are changing the face of volunteerism for young people that they can contribute their professional experiences into a cause like ours,” says Shamin. “It took us over a year to find the perfect home. It had to be somewhere that didn’t make any group feel unwelcomed. I felt the need to be in a central location that would be accessible to volunteers. The minute our board and I came across our current location at 122 John St. we knew it was our new home.”
“We want a closer connection to our community by being where young people are present” – Shamin Mohamed Jr.
LetsStopAIDS has led numerous local and international programmes and has presented at several key conferences – most recently at AIDS2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. LetsStopAIDS has created a global network of youth-HIV leaders, who actively take part in providing HIV awareness and work to end the stigma. With over 400 volunteers and no paid staff, LetsStopAIDS has evolved into an open team; young people and their communities can develop its key programme priorities, as opposed to shareholders. Volunteers range from secondary school students and industry-professionals to key change-makers who have an interest in global youth-HIV programmes.
It’s important to remember the past: to acknowledge the lives lost and the struggles faced by oppressed individuals with HIV. Although the fear of those with HIV has and continues to fade, the stigma and discrimination remains.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 63,110 people were HIV-positive in 2016 and the rate of HIV has increased in Canadian youth aged 15-29 over the last decade. Although there is no cure, HIV can be managed through regular medication where people are able to live relatively normal lives. Most importantly, HIV-related education and the knowledge exchange seen at LetsStopAIDS is vital in the prevention of this disease.
To get involved with LetsStopAIDS, you can visit its website to volunteer, donate, and subscribe to their newsletter. Stay connected with the team online through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.