Bob Leahy: Nadha, congratulations on your award, first of all.
Nadha Hassen: Thank you very much.
What’s your background?
I consider myself to be a little bit of a person of the world. I was born in Saudi Arabia and my family moved to the United Arab Emirate when I was five and that was where I grew up.
And how long have you been in Canada?
I’m originally Sri Lankan so that’s been a crucial part of my upbringing as well but I moved to Canada for university when I was about 17.
So what are you doing now, Nadha? Have you finished with university?
I finished my undergrad degree and I’m back to do my master’s degree in public health so I’m at University of Toronto right now at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
What’s your connection with HIV? How did you first get interested?
Well, I came across this organization Africa’s Children–Africa’s Future (AC-AF) and they were the organization that really got me involved in HIV/AIDS and I started to see the tremendous impact on the world. They have an office in Tanzania as well as in Toronto. They really opened my eyes to how it really is a global issue.
How long ago was that?
That was in 2011. I haven’t looked back since. I had the opportunity to go to the International AIDS Conference last year in Washington. I was invited to participate in the Youth pre-conference where youth from all over the world got together and that was really an amazing opportunity to see the scale and impact of what youth are doing in the field of HIV and AIDS.
Great! Maybe we can talk about the work you have done that resulted in your recent award. You had one project involving youth, art and HIV in Toronto?
Yes, it's a workshop program that AC-AF has and it really is a cross cultural dialogue for youth to start to understand the social and biological factors behind HIV/AIDS and really starts to break down stigma, and the myths surrounding HIV. I was quite amazed in these workshops to realize that a lot of young people in Toronto think that it’s something that exists outside of Canada, it’s this idea that it's something that isn’t present in our communities and we shouldn’t need to be thinking about - and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So how did you combat this lack of knowledge with arts programming?
AC-AF provides a platform for youth to voice their opinion about HIV/AIDS. Right now our current project in Toronto invites children and youth to create a postcard addressed to the United Nations General Assembly, so they can express themselves creatively and each of these messages will contribute to an international voice so that children can make their opinion heard. At the (International AIDS) conference I heard that in 2009 globally 41% of all new infections were among young people from 15-24 and that was a staggering number to me and that's why I think as young people we need to be informed, we need to get the facts for ourselves.
What about the work you did in Tanzania that was recognized by your award also? You were working out of the Toronto offices of AC-AF I think.
Yes. It was really a response to a report that was released that was looking at the violence against children in Tanzania.
Are we talking about physical abuse or sexual abuse?
Violence against children comprises physical violence, sexual violence and emotional violence. Definitely the sexual violence is a primary component and does contribute to transmission rates, especially in children. In Tanzania, Bob, as in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, there is the myth that if you are someone living with HIV and have sex with a virgin child you will be cured. So that‘s one of the components that contributes to violence against children, and new transmissions.
So let’s talk about the award, what does it means to you.
It’s great. I think the award is actually a great way to bring together youth who are involved in different aspects of international cooperation and I really appreciated the opportunity to be connected to other youth who are actively involved in their communities So I think the most significant thing for me was to actually be made aware that there is a such a great network of youth out there actually making a difference.
Great! So what’s next for you, Nadha.
Once I finish my degree, I really hope to go on to get involved in more global health issues. I’m really passionate about this area and I hope it will continue to be a life-long relationship
Nadha, thanks for this. Good luck and again, congratulations on this award.
You can watch Nadha on video below. You can also follow Nadha on twitter @nadhassen
You can follow OCIC at @ocictweets
Learn about the other 2013 OCIC Global Changemakers.
This is what the press release says . . .
Toronto, ON. January 28th, 2013 — In celebration of International Development Week (IDW) from February 3-9, 2013, the Ontario Council for International Cooperation (OCIC) is presenting Nadha Hassen with the 2013 OCIC Global Changemaker Award for her active engagement in efforts to promote international cooperation both in Canada and globally. Nadha embodies the spirit of global social justice: she is a local hero making a global difference.
Nadha Hassen, 23, has contributed to Africa’s Children-Africa’s Future (AC-AF) programmes in both Canada and Tanzania. She co-developed a pilot youth-oriented workshop on abuse in Tanzania. She also facilitated arts-based workshops for youth in Toronto to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, which included activities on myth-busting and overcoming stigma related to sexual health.
Africa’s Children – Africa’s Future (AC-AF) is a volunteer-based organization that works in Canada and Tanzania to create sustainable approaches to development issues locally and internationally.
International Development Week 2013 is celebrated nationally from February 3-9, 2013. During that time, OCIC, a council of Ontario-based international development and global education organizations and individuals working globally for social justice, will honour eight young Global Changemakers for their active engagement in promoting local and global social justice. To view the video profiles of the Global Changemakers beginning on Monday, February 4, 2013, please visit: http://ocic.on.ca. To learn more about International Development Week 2013, please visit: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/idw.
This initiative is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).