“Twatotela” (Thank You)
For over 25 years, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have supported the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. At this year’s CWA conference held in April, Foundation Ambassador Martha Sichone-Cameron addressed the attendees and thanked them for their support. In this blog, Martha writes about how deeply appreciative she is of CWA and all those who continue to fight for the end of AIDS.
At the Communications Workers of America conference, I had an opportunity many people who have accessed prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTC) services in Zambia and Africa as a whole don’t have: the chance to say thank you.
When I was young in Zambia, I visited my grandparents in the village. It was a full day’s bus ride and full day’s walk from the bus stop to the village, but you would make many stops in the little villages or homesteads in between. The village women would recognize weary travelers and RUN to welcome you, feed you, let you rest, and walk with you some of the way. I always thought we knew all those people, but later my grandparents explained that that was the culture of hospitality – you helped someone because someone else whom you didn’t know would help you when you needed it most. In Africa, people are poor and women especially are so disadvantaged – it is not always that someone can extend a hand to help them.
At the CWA conference, I witnessed that same hospitality and compassion and kindness. I was able to see a room full of complete strangers whom I felt like I had known all my life, and realize that they have been extending a hand to women in Africa for so many years. I was able to say “thank you” on behalf of other women who have received this help without seeing the hand of the stranger who helped them.
My husband always reads my speeches and is very supportive, and my adopted daughter gave me a reason to live when I lost my mother. But to remember why I’m so grateful, all I have to do is see my little ones every morning. No matter what kind of morning it is, I have a reason to smile. I know everyone thinks their kids are amazing, but you only have to spend a short while with my two boys to see how special they are. They have so much energy. Josiah wants to be “five” things when he grows up (he wants to be the fireman and the fire truck, the policeman and the police car, and the ambulance). He can spell his name and he can write all the letters – just not in the correct order. He needs you to count how tall he is after EVERY meal or snack. He draws pictures for us every day: mummy in the bus, mummy cooking, and smiley faces. Judah is the organizer– he’s always busy making sure his food isn’t touching and his toast is placed face down. Toys and shoes are organized into lines, and paper towels rolls are stacked on top of each other. My family is my greatest treasure.
I was beyond nervous about speaking at the conference. That was A LOT of people. People think I am confident, but I was very overwhelmed. I had to focus on why I was there. I had to think of my family. I thought I was speaking really fast, and I had to stop myself from crying when I got emotional.
After I gave my speech, people came up to me and said how touched they were. Someone told me that they had a grown son who was born with HIV. I can only imagine what they have been through, how afraid they must have been. Someone else told me that they had tried so many times to have children and couldn’t. I kept thinking about them all the way home. I know that despair. I think I would have died from the pain and shame.
A lot of people were grateful for my story. I was grateful for them.
I can’t tell what an amazing feeling it is to be accepted and appreciated. For most women with HIV, it is often quite the opposite. I do not forget that. I do not forget the many women out there who need help, who need to experience the joy of motherhood. Your kids don’t care what you have – they love you unconditionally. That it is truly why I fight.
I take the opportunity and responsibility I have for these women very seriously. I want to see an end to pediatric aids. I don’t just say that as a tag line. I mean it with every beat of my heart.
Martha Sichone-Cameron is a Foundation Ambassador. She lives in Washington, D.C. and attended the CWA Convention thanks to United Airlines’ Charity Miles program.