Tunaweza: Together We Can – Jake Glaser Travels to Tanzania with EGPAF
Last month, as I boarded a flight to Tanzania, I reflected on my first visit to the country over 11 years ago. It was my first glimpse of the work the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) implements around the world. Before my visit, I could have never imagined the reach our organization. I also could have never imagined the impact of the support it was providing to communities in Tanzania that were energetic, empowered, and willing to work together. I had dubbed the theme of that trip “Together we can.”
I was thrilled to have the chance to return to Tanzania, and as I stepped off of my flight in Dar Es Salaam, I was again welcomed by the warm, balmy nights of the east coast of Africa. Waiting to greet me at the airport was a tall man I had never met before – Jeroen Van't Pad Bosch, EGPAF’s Tanzania Country Director. I had heard rumors that he was an avid sailor and waterman, so I knew we would get along perfectly. As we drove to my hotel for the night, he brought me up to speed on the trip that was ahead of us – a delightful mix of formal engagements and pure fun – and I was ready to rock and roll.
A first night in Africa, after traveling for almost two days is never an easy sleep. But in the absence of sleep, I still began to dream. In my dream, I started to imagine a world free of HIV, where people are empowered to work as one and evolve the thinking, storytelling, general education, and knowledge about HIV. As I imagined this beautiful reality we all wish to create, I dozed off.
When I woke up the following day, I packed my bags and I was off to Arusha, Tanzania. Little did I know that the dreams of the night before were about to be manifested into reality.
Our first stop was the Regional Interagency Task Team on Children and AIDS Annual Youth Forum, where I had the privilege and honor of opening the event. To say it was emotionally moving would be the understatement of the year. Just the night before, I had been dreaming of a future free of HIV—here I was seeing first-hand how it could happen.
At times I remind myself that I live in somewhat of a bubble being from Santa Monica, CA – that the ideas I have about stigma, HIV, and life might not be applicable to those in other parts of the world.
All of a sudden I was witnessing a generation of youth ready to change the narrative, ready to define healthy living and life as a whole in their own way. All of a sudden I felt like I was introduced to my long lost clones.
My next stop was at an Ariel Camp (named in honor of my late sister). The camps are supported by EGPAF and EGPAF affiliate, Ariel Glaser AIDS Healthcare Initiative.
These camps bring fun as well as skills building and life coaching together in the most beautiful way possible. One moment I would be dancing with youth and the next we were sharing stories, tears, and genuine human growth.
The camp was like nothing I had ever seen. EGPAF’s work has grown far beyond just helping mothers and their children.
Today, EGPAF is a worldwide family that is cultivating future generations in ways my mother, Elizabeth, could have never imagined.
To see HIV-positive youth on a path to becoming community leaders, doctors, artists, musicians, and more brought on a tidal wave of emotions.
Each person I spoke with inspired me. Each person I hugged became a part of my life and my family. Each person I saw before me growing into the leaders of tomorrow gave me strength. My encounters with the people I met stoked my fire and reminded me that our future is bright with this generation forging ahead.
As my journey continued, I learned so much about the way EGPAF works with communities, healthcare providers, and ministries of health. Our staff on the ground humbled me with their dedication to creating an AIDS-free future, and the passion with which they did their work.
I was also so grateful for the opportunity to sit and have lunch with EGPAF-Tanzania staff in both Dar Es Salaam and Arusha – it was so amazingly energizing. They knew everything there was to know about my mom and my sister; they were sharing stories with me that I had never heard. It was almost as if my mom had been living in Tanzania all this time only for me to find her once again on this trip. For that, I thank the dedicated teams of EGPAF-Tanzania from the bottom of my heart for the work they do and for the legacy that they carry on.
In the 11 year span between my first trip to Tanzania with EGPAF and this one, so much has changed, and I know that more change is on the way.
Because of this powerful generation of youth, the future is bright. Because of the mentorship of healthcare workers and our EGPAF family, our programs have been and continue to be successful. Because of our partnerships and the support of our donors, our work continues to spread across the world. Because of you, the community reading this, we will end HIV in our lifetime.