When I found out I got a scholarship to the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, I told everyone I knew. By the time I arrived at the conference I was exhausted, but that changed upon entering the Global Village. I received renewed energy from all the activity. People were there from Aruba to Zambia.
I met a woman who shared her disclosure story and said, "I first had to disclose (HIV status) to myself." That made so much sense. To live your life, you have to be okay in your own skin. If you're not, then this disease will run your life. It took me a long time to get to that point, but my life is fuller and richer for having achieved that goal. Upon leaving the conference I had a renewed sense of commitment, empowerment and determination.
At the International AIDS Conference, I saw people and attire from many countries and faiths. There were people in traditional African and Indian garments. There were monks draped in orange. I saw women marching for equality. Hotel workers and men marched along side the women.
I heard that it is up to women worldwide to turn this epidemic around. We must work together to end the deaths, violence and disrespect towards women and children. I heard that we must work together globally to end the U.S. ban on HIV-infected people entering this country.
The best part of the conference was meeting other women. A woman from Liberia lost her luggage and I was able to share my clothing with her. She had little money for food, but she was in good spirits and grateful. I met a woman from Sudan. She held a prestigious position and when I said "wow", she shook her head and said, "No -- no wow." She was humble and spiritual.
One day I wore an African dress and felt so connected to my roots that I felt out of place the next day in my American clothes. One woman told me that I looked like I could be from Nigeria. I put my fist out and yelled YES!
After the International AIDS Conference, I came back home rededicated to the cause to fight for our rights as women of the world. I quote Stephen Lewis, Special U.N. Envoy to Africa "This epidemic's force will never be subdued until women are brought to the table of discussion."
At the conference, there were plenaries and skill building workshops, but the one place where I found the inspiration and hope is in the Global Village. I met women from all over the world living with HIV/AIDS, and/or working in the field. Feelings of belonging were strong and warm, and I felt that we all had something in common. When the time came on Thursday to leave the Global Village, I had tears in my eyes from the emotion of having to leave such a heartening place. The faces of all the women I met will stay in my heart forever.
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