One of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World
Mohammad’s advocacy for helping other HIV-positive youth have earned him a number of awards and recognitions, the most notable is being included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America.
Staples/Ashoka Youth Entrepreneurship Winner and International Children’s Peace Prize Nominee
Mohammad is also a winner of the Staples/Ashoka Youth Entrepreneurship Competition, and has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, which simply signifies just how much of an influence and inspiration he has been for all of his dedication in helping HIV-positive youth.
Mohammad’s passion for helping young people who have been infected with HIV comes from him understanding their plight. Mohammad contracted the disease when he was very young and has since then experienced the difficult life of being scorned and discriminated by society. Because of this, Mohammad understands just how difficult it is for children to be HIV-positive, and as such, fights for their rights, knowing that they are suffering from something that they could not control.
HIV and AIDS Advocacy
Mohammad’s advocacy for HIV treatment has become a great inspiration to many organizations worldwide. Mohammad himself understands just how important this is, not just to those who have been affected but also to those who are free from HIV and AIDS and are afraid of catching it. Mohammad writes in a blog:
“HIV treatment bridges divided communities, restores hope, bestows a sense of belonging, generates economic interest in any community, reduces the healthcare burden and curbs the number of new infections simultaneously. That is why I am reiterating this point. Because of my personal experiences, I am committed to strongly arguing for universal access to treatment for all. With treatment, there is the possibility of creating a whole generation that is free of AIDS.”
Combatting HIV and AIDS himself is already a daunting task for someone as young as Mohammad. But instead of being sorry for himself and wallowing in desperation, Mohammad chose to use his plight as a means of empowering others and giving them hope by making them realize that there is still a good life waiting for them.
Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces who have contracted HIV and AIDS give Mohammad encouragement and inspiration to continue his fight. He said this in an interview:
“I was persistent, invigorated, inspired and motivated by the genuine smiles of the people whose lives I am trying to better by preventing them from HIV infections and simultaneously enabling those in need of medications access them while preventing a virtual genocide from happening across the developing world.”
How Mohammad Barry Became HIV Positive
Mohammad Barry was born in a small village in Gambia in 1992. As a young child, Mohammad was quite fortunate in spite of the poor situation in where he lived due to the love and care that was given to him by his parents.
Although they were quite poor compared to the standard of living, they at least had enough to be able to survive every day. It was not what many would call a ‘good life,’ but it helped develop Mohammad’s perspective in seeing the good out of every situation, something that would help him later on in life.
When Mohammad was only seven years old, he came against two overwhelming tragedies that would change his life forever. His father, who suffered from HIV and AIDS much earlier, had died, and Mohammad himself realized that he had contracted the deadly disease. It was a really devastating time for the young Mohammad, who was quite too young to understand what was happening or why it was happening.
Battling Against HIV and AIDS
It commenced a very difficult life for Mohammad—not only because he would be battling with the disease for the rest of his life, but also because of the social stigma and discrimination that he would be facing from that time on.
In a blog he wrote many years later, Mohammad recalled how it felt the first time he had to walk through the aisle of an AIDS ward, and what millions of other people suffering from HIV and AIDS are going through today:
“Far from the madding crowd, when I walked through the front door of the AIDS ward, the first thing I noticed was the odor. Then I heard the groaning. I saw pale faces staring at me with sharp eyes like daggers. Heaps of pills had formed everywhere, and the patients were so isolated that no one could hear them even when they screamed for help. The same struggles for life and battles with AIDS are still present in the lives of nine million people across the globe. They are young and old; men and women; children and adolescents around the globe, all in the same boat of waiting for ARVs on a daily basis.”
For the next ten years, Mohammad had to face not just the constant fear of dying prematurely, but also the scorn of a society whose discriminating attitude against people suffering from AIDS came from the fact that they did not know any better. In fact, there were times that Mohammad felt that the pain caused by the indifferent treatment of the people around him was much greater that the sickness that he was going through.
Yet in spite of this seemingly hopeless situation, Mohammad never gave up on life. As he matured in his knowledge and understanding, Mohammad also had chance encounters with people who began to give him hope by showing him what most of the people surrounding him failed to do—love and acceptance. And so, Mohammad grew up realizing that he and millions of other people around the world were already suffering enough from their diseases, and they did not need to suffer the social stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
Armed with a new conviction, Mohammad began to shift his focus from what he was feeling and started to devote his life to his fellow HIV-positive youths. When Mohammed was 16 years old, he established a school for children who were suffering from HIV and AIDS and were not being allowed to study in normal schools.
Since then, Mohammad started working with various organizations dedicated to helping people suffering from HIV and AIDS. Mohammad’s newfound courage and strength came from a desire of seeing the lives of HIV-positive children improve. It emboldened him to speak on behalf of the millions of people in the world who are suffering from this deadly disease.
He started being an advocate for HIV-positive patients by promoting a better understanding of what people suffering from AIDS are going through, as well as a means to increase the availability of HIV treatments. He said in an interview many years later:
“I want to advocate for children living with HIV/AIDS to receive quality drugs at no cost; develop a user friendly tool for people, especially children for the purpose of HIV/AIDS prevention. I have big plans that I believe I will achieve and must achieve.”
Founding Aid for Smiles
Sometime afterwards, Mohammad established Aid for Smiles, an organization dedicated to promote HIV and AIDS prevention, as well as to empower HIV-positive youth to stand for their rights and become productive and significant members of society.
Through his undying efforts in campaigning for the AIDS patients, Mohammad’s organization grew from a small group of supporters to a foundation which has become one of the leading organizations against HIV and AIDS in Gambia today.
Due to his extraordinary passion and courage, Mohammad was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2010. That same year, he won the Staples/Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition, which showed just how much of an influence and encouragement he has been to the lives of many people, not just to those who were suffering from HIV and AIDS.
HIV Treatments: To Have or Not to Have
In 2011, after realizing just how many HIV-positive people around the world did not have access to HIV treatment, Mohammad decided to stop taking his medication and instead focus all of his time and effort in advocating for other HIV and AIDS patients. The following year, however, he started to feel sickly and weak, which prompted his friends to encourage him to take the treatment.
Initially, Mohammad did not want to, reasoning that there were more people in the world that needed the treatment that he could easily have access to, but soon enough he realized that if he were to help these people, he had to be alive and well. And so, in 2012, Mohammed started taking HIV treatments once again.
Undeterred by HIV
That same year, Mohammad’s efforts were further thrust into international attention when he was included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America.
Currently, Mohammad continues his fight to help other people who are suffering from HIV and AIDS. Many a times Mohammad is tempted to think how better it would have been if he did not have this disease, but after looking back and seeing all of his accomplishments, Mohammad realizes that he’s lived a full life.
Instead of sulking in despair and waiting for his own demise to happen, Mohammad uses the struggles that he is going through as a stepping stone to help others to reach their fullest potential in life.
“I wish I could remember those serene days without plight and pains, undeniably memories of trauma, AIDS, stigma, discrimination, prejudices, hate, fear, derision and the fight for life have eroded my thoughts and formed a bulk barrier that I have for almost 13 years struggled to break, as a teen living with HIV among his peers and in order to remember my early years as a child without HIV. But this is not stopping me from making HIV history because I don’t want YOU to feel this pain I bear. You might be wondering what has kept me going: it’s clear OPTIMISM and HOPE in the wilderness. I believe my life with HIV is a platform for me to reach out to young people like YOU half way across the globe with information about HIV and AIDS. Today I live positively with HIV, healthy and optimistic!” (Source: Global Changemakers)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Aid for Smiles
- Speak AIDS
- Ashoka Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 2010: Nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize
- 2010: Won the Staples/Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America