The Inner Struggle of Combating AIDS

As I reflect on my last 2 weeks in South Africa, I feel as though I am in a continuous state of opposition, where various forces are constantly at war with each other.

-The beauty of the countryside vs. poverty-stricken villages

-The hope of a better future vs. the despair of the ever-present reality of AIDS

-Our dispersal of knowledge vs. generations of ignorance

-The need for behavior change for oneself and the community vs. self-satisfying survival mentality

I had the opportunity to speak to a small group of young women one morning, and I was struck by their inability to think creatively or progressively about their future. Simple questions went unanswered . . . What would you like to be? _____(response: blank stare) What would you like to change about your situation? _____(response: blank stare) It was as if their coping mechanism was to limit themselves to the essentials of their existence so not to be disappointed by the possibility of something greater.

Many people have cautioned me not to get disheartened by the challenges of such a devastating disease like HIV/AIDS. They warn me that the rewards are rarely visible, and the challenge is increasingly taxing. So when my hope of influence collides with the dire reality of the situation and there is no concrete, quantifiable results for our efforts; the inevitable question arises, is the glass half full or half empty?

When it comes to AIDS, optimism and inspiration are currently a one way street. They seem to only come from the outside. Our challenge is to create leaders, where no role models exist, to invoke behavior change, where the incentive is still unclear to them, and to provide hope where only blank stares reside. Until people are capable of generating hope and solutions on their own, despair is not an option for any of us. The glass must always be seen as half full, even if there is only one drop at the bottom. This is not done with disillusionment of the problem or progress, but rather with the understanding that those with the ability to foresee a better future must continue to be the eyes for the ones blinded by their own pain and hopelessness.

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