We are confident that, in partnership with others and by maximising our use of the new centre, we will provide 1 million hours of support to children and young people living with HIV and AIDS across the region by 2020The Duke of Sussex
Thank you Sophie, and thank you for all the support Royal Salute has given to our work over the years.
Good evening everyone.
Its great to be here in the sunshine state!
I would like to begin by thanking Bob for his unbelievably generous hospitality in allowing us to hold the seventh Sentebale Polo Cup here at his beautiful grounds.
Twelve years ago I made my first visit to Lesotho, hosted by Prince Seeiso, who sadly cannot be with us this evening. As we travelled across the country, I was amazed by its beauty; but I was also struck by the many children I met whose lives had been torn apart by the loss of one or both parents to AIDS related illnesses. Having lost my own mother seven years before, I felt a profound connection to these children. In spite of the obvious differences in our lives, we shared the loss of a parent and that ever-present emptiness that could never be filled. For many of these children, their situation was compounded by the need to feed and care for brothers and sisters – as a result there was simply no time for them to be children anymore.
These experiences put my own into perspective; I resolved to do what ever I could to help. The result is our charity Sentebale, meaning ‘Forget me not’ which Prince Seeso and I founded together in memory of our mothers, ten years ago. Incidentally I found out just today that forget me nots were my mother's favourite flowers when she was growing up.
We recognised that a great deal of valuable work was already being done in Lesotho, so we decided to partner with these organisations; using their experience and the attention we could bring to this work to help galvanise support for this poor but magical country.
I think it would be fair to say that we’ve learned a great deal over the last ten years - our focus has broadened beyond providing for a child’s basic needs to include specialist care, life skills and vocational training. However, support to children and young people affected by HIV and AIDS has always been core to our work. This is more important now than it has ever been, and we have worked hard to develop our approach to meet this need.
But before I get onto that, let me set out the scale of the problem: Lesotho has the second highest rate of HIV in the world and UNAIDS estimates that only 30% of adolescents living with HIV in the country are accessing medication – as a consequence, adolescent deaths as a result of HIV, AIDS, and related illnesses are still rising in Lesotho.
Across the region, the picture is equally concerning. 82% of adolescents living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, which is a staggering figure, when you consider that only 16% of the world's adolescents live in the region. It is no surprise that HIV remains the number 1 cause of death amongst adolescents in Africa.
Our own research showed us that children living with HIV received little support to help them deal with the challenges of their condition. As a result they felt isolated and afraid to face up to their illness. In response to this challenge we have developed a model of care, targeted at children and adolescents, which addresses this cycle.
The concept is simple – we encourage children and young people to come together through our week-long Momahato camps and network clubs, to talk about their health issues and fears of living with HIV. Often for the first time, they learn to talk openly to one and another about being HIV-positive, learning about their medication, building friendships and a sense of normality; as they realise that, with the correct medication, it is possible to lead a long and healthy life. By giving children the opportunity to share experiences with their peers, in a safe and accepting environment, we have found they’ll lead healthier, more well-adjusted lives.
We are so confident in the success of our model that we have built the Momahato Children's Centre. A facility unlike any other in southern Africa which is now our centre of operations and our spiritual home. As we look to the future and what this centre will mean for our work in Lesotho; four times as many children will be able to attend camps each year, previously we were reaching around 400 children per year, now we will help 1500 children every year – that’s a massive step change for us and for Lesotho.
The opportunities this Centre afford us go far beyond Lesotho. This will become a centre of excellence for the region; allowing us to share our valuable knowledge and experience of psychosocial support with partners in other countries.
This year, we are working with established partners and Government departments elsewhere across southern Africa; and I’m delighted to confirm that we will be expanding our camp programme into Botswana, a country I have been visiting regularly for almost two decades and genuinely feel I need to give as much back to as I can.
We are confident that, in partnership with others and by maximising our use of the new centre, we will provide 1 million hours of support to children and young people living with HIV and AIDS across the region by 2020.
That’s an ambitious goal, but as I’ve already mentioned, the scale of the challenge demands bold action. I hope you can see how much this means to me and all of us at Sentebale, particularly Nacho and our new Ambassador – George Mpanga.
I hope you’re all here tonight, not just because it’s such a wonderful event, but to help some of the world’s most vulnerable children and to give them the childhood, and ultimately the future, they deserve.