by John Dankosky - Our conversation with radio producer Joe Richman on Where We Live gave me two opportunities: One, to speak with one of my real heroes in the world of public radio storytelling, who invented his own form – Radio Diaries. Two, to present (again) one of the most powerful stories ever heard on public radio – “Thembi’s AIDS Diary.”
This is a bit of her story, told by Richman on his website:
Photo by Melikhaya Mpumela - Thembi Ngubane died at the age of 24. She was 19 when she was given a tape recorder to make an audio diary of her struggle to live with AIDS.
We first met Thembi when she was 19 and living in one of the largest townships in South Africa. We were struck by her candor, sense of humor and her courage. She was willing to speak out about having AIDS at a time when few South Africans were willing to say, “I have AIDS.” Thembi carried a tape recorder from 2004 to 2005 to document her life. Her story aired on National Public Radio in the U.S., and in the U.K., Australia and Canada, reaching more than 50 million people.
Thembi then traveled to the United States in 2006 to present her story. In 2007, Thembi’s AIDS Diary was heard in South Africa for the first time – in English, Xhosa and Zulu. Thembi and Radio Diaries toured South Africa, presenting her story at high schools, universities, community clinics, Constitution Hill, and Parliament.
Her story eventually reached millions and she became a spokesperson traveling around the world to present her story.
On June 5th, 2009, Thembi died of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. She was 24. She leaves her daughter, Onwabo, her boyfriend Melikhaya, her mother, brother and sisters. She is greatly missed.
The loving obit Richman produced for NPR can be heard here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105017959. He told me that this was “the most important project I’ve ever worked on.” But, while the recordings of her life were universally praised for their power and intimacy, Richman said that Thembi truly shined brightest when she went on tour, delivering her message to teens, not much younger than her. ”It’s amazing to be able to reach millions of people on the radio, and it’s amazing to be able to reach 50 people in a high school class. And she was able to do both,” he told me.
In 2006, we presented some of this story on Where We Live, on a program where I interviewed another person touched by Thembi, Nicolas de Torrente, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders. His organization was credited with providing the antiretroviral drugs that extended, but couldn’t save her life.
I highly encourage you to listen to her story, as she tells it. There is no better way to learn about what it’s like to be young. To be in love. To be caring for a child. And, to be living with AIDS.
For more about 15 years of Radio Diaries, see the video below:
Filed under Media, Medicine