POZ Exclusives : No Kidding Around - by James Wortman

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February 6, 2008

No Kidding Around

by James Wortman

Two young girls have shed valuable light on the debate about how and when we should talk to children about sex. While accompanying their parents to the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada in August of 2006, Vineeta and Sevilla Hennessey, ages 7 and 5 respectively, found themselves chatting with AIDS experts about the epidemic.

The girls’ parents—renowned global health advocates Brian Hennessey and Radia Daoussi—had gone to Toronto to chronicle the conference. Realizing that even the top minds in the field had difficulty talking about HIV, sex and condoms with inquiring children, Hennessey and Daoussi decided to film these interactions and put the experts on the spot.

The experience resulted in a short film, Please Talk to Kids About AIDS,  that chronicles the girls’ conversations with people like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Laurie Garrett, Nobel Prize-winning AIDS journalist, Stephen Lewis, former United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, and other health experts, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS.

While brief—26 minutes—the film acknowledges the difficulty of talking with young people about the virus. At the time of filming, Vineeta and Sevilla were only 6 and 4 years of age. However, the documentary also shows that even children as young as Vineeta and Sevilla have natural curiosity about sex and HIV/AIDS that can be addressed directly, factually and in a way that furthers their understanding.

Hennessey and Daoussi hope that by showcasing their daughters’ desire for frank answers about sex and STDs, others will realize the importance of talking to kids in a no-nonsense fashion.

POZ attended the January 30 screening of Please Talk to Kids About AIDS, held at the Women’s Institute of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York AIDS service organization for people living with HIV/AIDS.

“This film is a platform for people to start discussing [sex],” said Daoussi in a question and answer session after the screening. Hennessey, the film’s director, added, “We’re raising a generation that’s more caring and compassionate.”

Vineeta and Sevilla with 2007 Miss Universe, Riyo Mori

Miss Universe 2007, Riyo Mori, was also at the screening. Like other Miss Universes before her, Mori is a staunch AIDS activist. In fact, raising AIDS awareness is an official part of Miss Universe’s job.

Mori commented to POZ, “[The film] was very interesting. They made a point, and it was very gentle and easy to understand. [The children] just have questions and we just need [to give them] answers.”

Scroll down to see a video of  Daoussi, Hennessey, Vineeta and Sevilla talking about the film’s production, its impact so far and what the future might hold for this AIDS-fighting family.

For information on how to obtain a copy of the documentary, visit Vineeta.org.

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