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Yesterday I felt hurt. It’s not something that I often feel, or at least admit to feeling (must be a combination of hormones and lack of sleep). In the last seven, almost eight years, I’ve lived in London, I have felt prejudice and minor racial insults. You know the usual, ‘I didn’t recognize you because you’ve changed your hair’ kind of stuff – despite the fact that I am the only black girl in the team. I guess white people look the same when they change their hair, yet black people look completely different. Or is that just code for ‘all black people look the same’?

I’ve always brushed it off and not taken it too seriously, though I did make a mental note to ignore the person the next time if they insisted they hadn’t met me before. I was then accused of being aloof. Go figure right.

So anyway, yesterday, this woman who I’ve known for pretty much the entire almost 8 years I’ve been here, comes to the office bearing gifts for the whole team for a project we’d pulled off successful but guess who didn’t get a present? Yep, somehow I was forgotten. Not my team mates who only joined 18 months ago, but me. Ok, I suppose on top of being black, I am kind of aloof after all, so I guess you could be forgiven for not noticing me in the corner…

Still it hurt my feelings, it’s not nice not to be noticed. Little, brown girl in the corner.

I try not to let external validation affect me. My purpose in life is not to have other people tell me I’m great, I need to know and believe that myself. If we look for external validation we might never be happy. It also makes us forever unsure about our skills and accomplishments, leaving you feeling insecure and over critical or unappreciative of your successes.

But as I firmly believe, the universe provides your signs to show you your purpose and even validate your feelings, if you will. Recently I was feeling down. No matter how many wins I’d achieved, I didn’t feel it was enough, still felt not completely sure that I was good at what I was doing, or making any difference. Because I was looking for that external validation.

Then something happened. I opened up my facebook page for pretty much anyone to find me. I had a whole bunch of people I didn’t know requesting me as a friend, I thought most of them were requesting me because of my MTV affiliation. Imagine my surprise when a good number of them sent me a message saying how much they admired my sisters and I, how we really changed their life with Trendsetters.

My sister

I was honestly overwhelmed. We hadn’t published Trendsetters in a good three or four years, yet people still remembered it and regarded it highly. It was Zambia’s first publication for young people and unlike some of the stuff out there today, we weren’t trying to tear anyone down but uplift a generation of young people. We profiled positive young role models and provided inspiration to young people to encourage them to aspire for greatness and to protect themselves by not contracting HIV. The magazine was informative, yet educational.

I couldn’t believe after all these years and my many years at MTV, people still valued the work I did when I was 18!

This wasn’t the main decision that made me look deeper to find my personal legend, but it did help me stop and take stock.

I’d spent many years looking for this external validation, when it was in me all along. I knew I could be successful at anything I put my mind too. But I also knew that my family and helping people be better were the things I cared about the most. I could achieve part of this at MTV, but to do both, would require some changes. So, the first part of my journey was to make the conscious, yet painful decision, to leave MTV. Having handed in my resignation, makes the unknown both scary and exciting.

I’m happy to be on this journey though, as deep down, I know it’s time I put me first and find my way, with my family around me.

I just came back from Lagos, Nigeria. I was out there to support MTV’s Africa Award (MAMA) show which was amazing. I also went to Lagos to try to leverage resources for the production and campaign of Shuga 2, both through non-profit and commercial organisations, which led me to UNICEF.

Having a great global relationship with UNICEF, thought it would be good to meet with UNICEF in Lagos and give them first option to buy into Shuga. It was such an insightful meeting – maybe not necessarily for Shuga, but more insight of how HIV/AIDS is impacting people in Nigeria.

Like many places with low prevalence rates but large populations, Nigeria is still not taking HIV/AIDS as seriously as they should. Vulnerable people such as street children are significantly hard to reach – not only because they move around, but because programmes aren’t created for them with them. Policy papers and briefing notes aren’t truly capturing what these kids are going through, it’s the same issues that you read about but not really reflective of what is going on.

Sara, the head of UNICEF out there in Lagos, said she was not prepared for what she heard when she talked to street kids. Having previously served in Nepal, she was used to hearing shocking stories from the streets, but being told about kids selling kids for sex and their casual discussion of drug use, still upset her.

I can’t lie, it upset me too, and I wasn’t hearing it first hand. We talked about how to make sure that whatever we did was sustainable – these kids left home for a reason, we couldn’t be another group to let them down.

It’s not an easy project at all and one that will cost significant resources to undertake. I do get when Gates and others are saying that we’ve got to find cheaper solutions that are effective but I think the problem is everyone is now looking at the $ sign and not the actual project or innovative solution. Also I don’t get the idea of evidence base – evidence shows that peer education doesn’t work that well but people are still putting money into it. Evidence shows that media campaigns can and do work, but no one is investing in the right media initiatives. So… what’s really going on?

I think we could do something really good and rewarding, and informative for street kids and maybe even manage to create some sort of economic solution for them, but can we find the money for it? I hope so, I hope between UNICEF and MTV we have enough clout to make this project work, at least for the sake of those kids. Who knows, if it works in Nigeria, we could roll it out across other regions.

On the other side, the MAMAs were amazing – African music is set to take over the world. They have been in the shadows too long, but they are ready. The eclectic mix of artists from all over the continent – the best of the best – coupled with Eve, Rick Ross and T-Pain and the legendary Public Enemy gave an explosive experience that shows why MTV still is the best at what they do.

So nice to see something positive coming out of Africa again. When you live in the West, it’s easy to forget how much positive stuff is going on in Africa as all you ever hear about here is poverty, pain, civil strife, corruption and a host of other negative stories. If I for a moment wasn’t proud to be African, the MAMAs reminds me of everything that is right about Africa and makes me hold my head up just that much higher.

After all of two hours sleep (if that), I landed in Vienna for the International AIDS Conference, where supposedly 25,000 people were going to be attending. Straight from the airport, I changed as I had to meet Bill Roedy, my chief exec to do a formal session on the New Generation Leadership with Michel Sidebe and the Crown Princess of Norway, and a bunch of other leaders, young and old.

He loved it – i was dreaming of my bed the whole time but had to stay. UNAIDS were launching this mentorship hub and programme to support youth leaders with established leaders (whatever that really means). And Bill does have a long history of supporting young people, and more so with the Staying Alive Foundation, so made sense for us to participate.

Luckily enough my dear friend Mark Connolly was also at the meeting, so we hung out and chilled – we got kicked out of the room because we weren’t on the list of established leaders, and i’m guessing I’m too old to pass as a youth leader (though some of the ages of those youth were questionable). By this point, I’m not only exhausted, I’m starving too. Lack of food and sleep deprivation is not a good combination for me, I’m seriously irritated.

By the time we’re invited back for the less formal session, I just want to go home (i.e. the hotel), but Bill wants a debrief, so I have to stay. About 90minutes later as I’m close to the end of my tether, I realise what was also irritating me about the meeting. I wasn’t hearing anything new.

I’ve been a ‘youth’ (love that term) in this field and the things I was hearing in the room was the same things I’ve heard years before – there was nothing new. Young people need to stop thinking that they can’t get anything done without the adult partnership in place – or they’ll be waiting for ever. But more than that, they have to act like young people and not adult clones in the UN system. Being young is what differentiates them from adults – this is their USP. I understand that it helps to talk their language, but if you try to behave like an adult (and i mean this in the HIV field) you won’t get very far, because the real adults have years of experience on you. Besides, why can’t the adults be the ones to adapt to young people’s way of thinking and behaviour?

They complained that they need jobs. Well I’ve seen enough youth consultants who aren’t youth, why not become a youth consultant – like a real life one? Sell your skills that way. And as for the whole money issue? That’s always going to be an issue, we’ve got to figure a way to be creative.

(shrug) I guess i just felt there were more excuses than solutions in that room. Though Paul Farmer did say something that made sense… If only I could remember what it was (it’s been a long week – and it’s only Tuesday).

After that Mark and I went for some Weiner Schnitzel (sp). I loved it! Even though it was deep fried…

That ended around 6pm and I still went on to have more dinner with my colleagues Julie and Siobhan! We got kicked off the terrace of our hotel for making too much noise… aaah that was a nice night.

Sunday was interesting. I had scheduled an hour long meeting between Bill and some young positives representing different parts of the world (strangely enough no one from Africa). My girl Jessica was there and she’s always cool – love her to bits.

Kenneth Cole joined the meeting with his daughter, which was cool. The conversation was really informal and it was just to get some insight into what it means to be young and HIV+ and what we should be doing more of and less of to support them. It was a really interesting conversation, it’s true what Michel Sidebe says, no one will know more about HIV/AIDS than a person living with the virus.

The rest of the team along with two cast members from Shuga arrived that day so the next part of my work began. Promoting Shuga. Because I’m getting tired again, I’ll summarise.

We had a press conference today with Bill, Ambassador Goosby and Jimmy Kolker, with Dr Dina Borzekowski presenting the results from the impact evaluation of the Ignite project. Shuga’s results were extradordinary. 60% of young people in Kenya had seen it! and over 80% of them had had their thinking affected by Shuga, with increased intentions to get tested, decreased intentions to have multiple concurrent partners and increased positive attitudes towards people living with HIV. You can get the full results from the staying alive site. Or i can send you a copy if you want.

So what does this all mean? We’re doing Shuga 2!

Ok I’m off, have to go and organise tonight’s screening and cocktail party. Catch me on twitter, I finally succumbed…. @cathyphiri