Ghana Today International; Isuse 15, May 2005.
At a time when problems of the youth is a source of concern for many societies across the world, from drugs to promiscuity, it is refreshing to note that there are some out there who are role models to their peers and and an inspiration to society in general.
Mensima Clerk is one such young lady who at 23 years, wants to take on the battle against AIDS/HIV, and has set up a foundation to do just that. GTI US correspondent Andrew Drewman caught up with her on her return from a research trip to Ghana.
GTI: What made you interested in AIDS?
MC: I remember reading an article a few years ago, I believe it was in Essence Magazine, about the populations that are most affected by AIDS/HIV in the US. African American women were among those mentioned. When I started doing my research on AIDS in Ghana, I discovered that once again women were being affected in alarming numbers. I remember feeling like I could not escape it (AIDS); in both the country where I live and where I am from, people like me are dying. It was then that I felt like I had to do something.
GTI: Why are you so passionate about this, when others are concerned with getting married, babies, etc.......?
MC: Fortunately, Ghana has been able to remain stable in spite of the turmoil going on around us in our neighboring countries. However I think if we take AIDS/HIV for granted, it can easily be what destroys our country.
The age group of those being affected is young, 25-29 for women and 30-34 for men. This is the childbearing populations as well as our future leaders and their lives are being cut short by this disease. This could be devastating to Ghana's development; I don't want to see that happen.
I am someone who grew up away from home but still had a strong connection with Ghana. My parents made sure my brother, sister and I knew that we were Ghanaians first and have a rich culture. Because of this, I've always felt that anything I do will start with Ghana. The time has come for me to try and make a difference. Usually it is those who have had the opportunity to grow up in Ghana who know what they are missing and have a better idea of how they can go back and contribute. It is now, in adulthood, that I am getting acquainted with Ghana and I'm in love with my country so much that I feel like a visitor when I'm in the States. I am very much at home in Ghana and look forward to going back. Eventually I would like to settle in Ghana, so in future my children will have the chance to know Ghana from an earlier age, and fall in love the way I did. If I can pass on to them the altruistic spirit that my parents instilled in me, then no matter where they go in the world they will know that Ghana is home and will do their best to make it a better place.
GTI: Why did you choose the name Kunim?
MC: When I think about AIDS/HIV, it really is a battle we are fighting. People are fighting for their lives and others have also joined the effort to make a difference for these people. We will loose some along the way and that is part of war, there will always be casualties, but if we work hard together, we will achieve victory. Kunim means victory in Ga, and that is what we want to see, a victory over this disease. I think if we can make people see the importance of safe sex and getting tested regularly, part of the battle would be won.
GTI: How do you plan to accomplish this goal?
MC: There is a responsibility that comes with knowing your status. A responsibility to keep yourself and others out of harms way and that begins with knowing where you stand. One thing I love about Ghanaians is that you can be anywhere in the world and meet a Ghanaian and it is like reuniting with family. We have a genuine care for one another and that is what makes us who we are. I think we should extend that same care to one another when it comes to AIDS/HIV and say because I care about myself, my people and my country I will get tested, whatever the outcome, and do my part not to put others at risk. I think it could be such a powerful thing because in essence that is all of us, one country working together in our own way to stop this disease.
GTI: How can people help?
MC: Currently to get tested in Ghana it costs about 5,000 cedis which is about 50 cents in the US. It seems like a small amount but some people can't afford it. We will be working with the local VCT, voluntary counseling and testing centers, to make testing available for everyone. The goal is to make testing free. Through the Kunim Foundation, you can sponsor people to get tested. Event if it is 50 cents you can donate, that will pay for one person to get tested and if you can give a dollar that tests 2 people. Our mission is for everyone to be tested and either maintain their negative status or get treatment and avoid infecting others.
GTI: Final thoughts?
MC: I would like my contribution to be one that others can build on, so I hope The Kunim Foundation will be the beginning of many great things to come. I am blessed to have learned so many things from my parents who are the epitome of sucess in many ways; I would like the chance to pass on what they have given me; I am forever grateful.