By Taylor Moore
This morning I had the privilege of joining Foundation Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen at a special breakfast on Capitol Hill. It was hosted by Senators Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy, and Congresswomen Kay Granger and Nita Lowey, and included a bipartisan audience of leading U.S. policymakers.
I went in to the event expecting a wonderful morning, with remarks from a roster of champions in the fight against AIDS, including Elton John; Michele Sidibe; the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe; John McGrue; Dr. Rick Warren, and others.
But the event became much more.
Senator Leahy opened the breakfast calling for bipartisan support for an AIDS-free generation. He expressed his appreciation to the global audience for efforts to continue momentum in the fight against AIDS, and urged his colleagues to remain committed to the cause.
Other speakers echoed that call for a shared responsibility and commitment. Dr. Rick Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church, spoke of the faith community’s contributions to the fight against AIDS, and the importance of collaboration among private, public, and faith communities in ongoing work against the disease. “Thank you for caring,” he said. “If we want to end AIDS, I am on your side.”
But it was Sir Elton John who summed up the theme of the morning best, stating that “the power of people working for good is an unstoppable force,” and that together, our sustained support and contributions have and will continue to make a dramatic impact in the fight against AIDS.
Elton John’s personal contributions – more than 25 years as a leader in the AIDS community – are emblematic of the unstoppable force he urged others to join this morning. Also part of that force is Florence Ngobeni-Allen.
Florence spoke to the audience of losing her daughter Nomthunzi to AIDS more than 15 years ago, and how that painful loss led her to become a counselor in her community. At the time, the medicines to keep an HIV-positive child healthy were unavailable in Florence’s home country of South Africa, and too many mothers had to watch their children die from AIDS.
Florence worked as a counselor for these women because she knew what the desperate fight to save a child from an untreatable disease felt like. Motivated by her love for Nomthunzi, Florence became committed to doing anything possible to help other mothers avoid that loss.
When prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services (PMTCT) came to South Africa 10 years ago, Florence’s world changed. As she said in her remarks, she was soon able to share hope, not grief, with the women in her community, and eventually, her role shifted from counselor to advocate and activist, fighting for access to and education about these lifesaving services.
Later, Florence would join many of these women, experiencing the joy of a healthy child herself through the birth of her two HIV-negative children, Alex and Kulani.
Everyone who heard her knew that when Florence spoke, she wasn’t just sharing her own story. She was representing all women affected by HIV — every mother who had lost a child to AIDS, who had experienced the miracle of PMTCT, who had witnessed the epidemic’s impact firsthand, and who was also part of that unstoppable force in the fight against AIDS.
Florence’s personal message of heartbreak and hope, and the reception she received in that room of peers this morning, reminded me that our fight against AIDS is not only a shared fight, but a winnable one as well.
Florence, Sir Elton John, and the other incredible leaders at this morning’s breakfast are representatives of a much larger community committing to a future free of AIDS. And their message this morning was loud and clear: we must remain committed, we must work together.
If we do, we WILL end AIDS.