Stories of Hope
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 Ben Banks.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s history is rooted in the story of one woman – Elizabeth Glaser – who was determined to save the lives of her children.
From her story came the Foundation’s mission, and from that mission come the stories of the people we work with every day.
In the fight against AIDS, we sometimes lose sight of these individual stories, especially when we look at the statistics. In 2011, 34 million people were living with HIV. 3.4 million were children. But every one of those children has a story to tell.
Recently, I reached out to one of our Foundation Ambassadors, Ben Banks, to talk to him about the pandemic and to hear his story firsthand.
When Ben was two years old, he was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms' Tumor, a Stage V cancer. During the two surgeries that saved Ben’s life, he received three blood transfusions. Ten years later, Ben discovered that one of these blood transfusions had infected him with HIV.
Since then, Ben has lived with HIV; he is married to a HIV-free wife and is soon to be the father of a HIV-negative child.
Ben understands the disease. He has experienced it and lived it since he was an infant. He knows the crippling power of stigma, discrimination, and neglect; he also knows and is testament to the potential of empowerment, acceptance, companionship, and care. As he told me, “Acceptance is crucial. All people need a human connection.”
It is important to think about the HIV/AIDS epidemic not just in numbers, but from stories like Ben’s. Each number is a story, an individual. Ben sees this human connection as key. How are we supposed to break down barriers of access, stigma, and discrimination if we can’t connect the dots between individual suffering and the global pandemic?
As Ben said, “You can’t just treat the disease; you have to treat the person. We’re not just numbers, we are people.”
We talked about Elizabeth Glaser and her positive energy that has changed the lives of millions of people. We talked about Ben and his story. We talked about the importance of breaking down this global epidemic to the people, families, relationships, and communities that are impacted by it.
The story of HIV/AIDS is the story of each and every person living with HIV. The end of HIV will also be based in people. For every story of loss and pain, there can be a story of activism, of health, and of hope. The mechanism that made this disease can be the same mechanism that fights it: individual people. Ben recognizes this and dedicates his life to seeing this change through: to educate, inform, and advocate.
At the Foundation, we are committed to advocating for and fulfilling the promise that Elizabeth made through her own life’s work. In honoring her legacy, we must continue to tell our own story and the stories of others.
Someone once told me, “Never forget that knowledge is found in the stories of people.” Right now, more than ever, that resonates with me. At its core, the success or failure in the fight against HIV is rooted in the stories and lives of millions of people like Ben, me, and you.