Opportunity + Hope = Reality

Henri Hammond-Paul is an intern for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, volunteering his time to the organization’s ongoing communications, public policy, and advocacy initiatives. In his role with the Foundation, Henri has the opportunity to work with the Foundation’s incredible group of advocates – the Foundation Ambassadors. In the blog post that follows, Henri shares a recent conversation he had with Ambassador Martha Cameron.

Elizabeth Glaser is a hero because she created a better reality for families like her own. Elizabeth’s reality – the world she lived in more than 25 years ago -– didn’t have the science, the technology, or the team players that has made us successful today. To achieve her goals, she had to bridge the gap between opportunities and hope to create a better reality.

Today – because of people like Elizabeth – we find ourselves in a different situation. A better reality. We have more opportunities than ever before. We can do what was impossible for Elizabeth – keep HIV-positive children healthy and alive. Even better, we now have the ability to keep children free of HIV entirely.

These successes in science wouldn’t exist without Elizabeth. But because of her, and so many others, we can now focus on a new goal – an AIDS-free generation. A world where no child is born with HIV, and where HIV-positive mothers are healthy and happy. Mothers like Martha Cameron.

Martha is a Foundation Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the organization where I have interned for the last three months. As an Ambassador, Martha shares her personal story to educate, advocate, and inspire efforts for that AIDS-free reality.

I recently spoke with Martha after having met her at an EGPAF event. Born in Zambia, Martha is a HIV-positive mother with two HIV-negative children and a HIV-negative husband (lovingly referred to in our conversation as “Superdaddy”). She now lives with her family in the U.S.

When we began our conversation, I immediately noticed a connection between her and Elizabeth: two women, determined to make the world a better place for their children, desperately fighting to change the world around them.

Martha never met Elizabeth, so she only knows her from her smile immortalized in photos, her autobiography, and the foundation that bears her name. To Martha, Elizabeth is a hero who exemplified sacrifice and hope. As she put it to me, “it is sad about what she had to go through, but I also think about the millions of lives she has touched and the legacy that she has left.”

When I spoke to Martha, she told me about how in the face of such adversity in her own life, she has managed to be hopeful and spread hope to others.

Martha realizes a powerful, yet very difficult truth, about our fight against HIV/AIDS: while the science and tools exist to eliminate this disease, we don’t always have the hope, passion, and courage to make it happen. She tells me, “We are fighting a battle we know we can win.” So why aren’t we winning it? There are still too many children being born HIV-positive. There are too many mothers without the knowledge or access to services that will keep them and their families alive.

I asked Martha what she would say to a mother who is going through what she went through, a question that I would have liked to ask Elizabeth. “When I was sick, there was a day – things were bleak. I needed someone to say, ‘you are going to be fine; be a mother; have kids.’” And that is what Martha does now in her job as a community health worker. She sees it has her duty to spread hope and strength. She wants people to hear a message of hope, to assure them of it. She wants people to know that she is living proof of the hope that Elizabeth Glaser fought with, and that they too can bear hope and life.

Towards the end of our conversation, Martha told me a story about her son Josiah. Every morning Josiah wakes up and the first thing he says to her is, “The sun is up!” Most days, the sun does shine. But sometimes, Martha stirs from her needed sleep to hear her son’s hopeful invocation, but when she opens her eyes, she finds a cloudy day or a still dark dawn. Even when the sun isn’t shining bright, Josiah encourages his mother (in the way that only a 3-year-old can) and says the “sun is just hiding, Mommy.”

Josiah’s hope is true, especially in the fight to end pediatric AIDS.  Martha tells me that when things are cloudy or dark, Josiah reminds her that the sun is still there. It is always there. She says it is a “reminder of how blessed I am and how grateful I am” to have the opportunity to fight; this reminder gives her passion to “fight for her own children” and the resolve to “fight for others.”

Martha and I spoke for a long time. In a reflection of her own experience and someone she is helping receive lifesaving treatment, Martha let slip, “in reality, it is so hard.” Her honesty reminded me that just because the opportunity exists, hope – like Josiah’s understanding of the sun -- is not a given. Hope is something we have to create and fight for.

At the end of our conversation, Martha said to me, “We need more people to that will hold someone’s hand and remind them: ‘there is hope.’” As a newcomer to Washington and to the long and ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS, that was exactly what I needed to hear.