Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Links and Such

This trip has shown me many things. I got the chance to meet some incredible people who are doing some incredible work. I think it's amazing that at every stop along the way there were people who were trying to make a difference and meeting with their Representatives and Senators. If a nine-year-old, a busy mother of two, a full-time mover-and-shaker and a retired grandmother can sit down with their member of Congress and make the world better, what's stopping you?

Links to some of the organizations we worked with and some of our media coverage are provided below. Let me know if there are more and I will add them! If you want more information on the tour or how to get involved, please email me at mpeterson@globalaidsalliance.org.

Thanks for reading!

Treatment Action Campaign
Global AIDS Alliance
Student Global AIDS Campaign
Straight Talk with Manning Kimmel
The Dartmouth
Voices of America
Catabwa Cares Coalition
Vermont CARES

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day Nine: Home Again

We actually overnighted in the capital of Vermont last night after driving up from Rutland after our event. (A side note here I cannot pronounce the Capital of Vermont correctly so I just refer to it as the Capital.) Much to my delight and I think the delight of both David and Monalisa the people we stayed with not only had an adorable chocolate lab, but also goats and chickens. So in the morning we were presented with an absolutely amazing breakfast of fresh scrambled eggs and all the trimmings. It was quite the feast. I am fairly certain this is one of the best meals we ate the entire time we were on the road.

After this incredible meal we hit the road for our last event. By this point we had it down to a science. From set up to who was saying what to break down we all knew what to do to have a smooth event.

As usual the people we encountered were phenomenal; the questions were insightful and the event was powerful.

We then headed back to DC for our final few events in the district. Monalisa had the chance to stay with a local TAC supporter, Sammie.

And then it was over. I am still grappling with the fact that tour is finished. I feel like I am going to wake up tomorrow and look at my itinerary and grab a quick bite join up with David and Monalisa and head some place new to talk to some more amazing people.

Maybe next fall....

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Day Eight: Road Trip!

So there has been a recurring theme in this trip that I have neglected to tell you all about. This is my mission to introduce Monalisa to as much American food as possible. Ok well really we will come across something and I will ask if she has had that before. Usually the answer is no and I don't want to. Then the cajoling begins.

Well today we arrived early to our event at Dartmouth College. As we weren't so far from Vermont, of course there was a Ben and Jerry's. Naturally I decide that Monalisa should try some Ben and Jerry's.

Let me preface this with the fact that a) its freezing and b) its raining. Now I always thought I hated cold weather more than anyone else. I was incredibly wrong -- so very incredibly wrong. Monalisa HATES cold weather. So this New England leg was proving to be a bit of a climatic challenge.

After much cajoling and promising that it is amazing ice cream I finally convinced her to try the ice cream. She thought it was delicious ... or at least that's what she said. Now if only I could get her to try hushpuppies!

I would write about the actual event with the Dartmouth students but I missed it while searching for a parking place on campus. You can read about it here.

And now continues the driving portion of our trek. After Dartmouth we drove to Rutland, VT and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

We had our second to last on the road event at an absolutely beautiful Unitarian Church. I have been absolutely floored at each on of these events at all the different types of people that turn out. in some cases the organizers seem surprised at their turn out. It amazes me how much compassion I have seen on this tour. I have left each event feeling warm and good about the world. I suppose that's odd given the topics being discussed -- domestic violence, harsh gender inequality, HIV/AIDS and death -- but every person I encounter after these talks gives me hope.

I think more than anything this is what the tour is about. Hope in humanity; hope that we can and will do better; that we can and will look beyond abstinence only as a prevention strategy; that we can and will stand up for those who cannot and that we can and will stop this pandemic once and for all.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day Six: A Little R and R

After yesterdays insanity today I think we were in a little slice of heaven. We stayed in Ossining NY at a lay mission house. If any of you ever went to a summer camp in the mountains this was like a nicer version of that. It was simple. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was completely removed from the hustle and bustle of yesterday.

It was perfect and exactly what we needed.

It had been a very long time since I spent much time in a place with little to no cell phone reception and no internet. We spent the day resting and I got the opportunity to really bond with Monalisa. Up till this point we had been all go go go the whole time. Not a lot of time for trading stories or learning about each other. She showed me pictures of her kids and told me stories about them and what they were like. She talked to me about her sister and what is like being the oldest girl in her family. I talked with her about my sister and what it is like being the oldest in my family.

Strikingly -- many of the themes were similar. Interactions among siblings seems to be universal. I had spent so much of this trip so in awe and inspired by Monalisa's story that this day where we watched some incredibly bad TV, giggled over things our siblings had done and traded pictures of the important people in our life was possibly the best day of the tour. It reminded that yes while there are horrible things in the world that when it comes down to it we are all human and we are all more than just the story we are telling.

After this lovely restful day we headed back into Westchester for another memorable event with local activists who have formed a dynamic coalition that is making waves in the community!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Day Five: The Longest Day Ever

I kid you not. This was indeed the.longest.day.ever

Any day that starts off with a four am wake up call and then leads to several wrong turns, misplaced meetings, hikes in high heels and the delightful combination of planes, trains AND automobiles is long. However, when you factor in meetings with funders and the overall pulse of the Big Apple and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

And that was just the morning! That evening we had a speaking engagement at Fordham University's Chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC). This was a new type of audience for us. This was a group of students who were already active, engaged and informed. I was curious to see how they would react to the story Monalisa told as compared to some of the other groups we had been before.

It was interesting, I watched people as they reacted. The looks on faces mirrored the looks we got in South Carolina. The nods in agreement happened in the same places. Really this just reinforced to me that no matter how well you know this problem, no matter how much of an expert you consider yourself to be -- in the end it doesn't matter. Monalisa's story taps into so many parts of human nature that it unlocks emotion. You don't need to be a doctor or an uber activist to have a voice here. You just need to have a heart.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Day Four: Southern Hospitality

I think it is safe to say that today we were all tired. The rest of the tour was looming in front of us stretching out of the week to come. However, today we were tired.

We started off the day by meeting Manning Kimmel of Rock Hill's Straight Talk a local public affairs and issues radio show. Mr. Kimmel absolutely amazed me. He seemed to know a little bit about everything and was very passionate about the issue of AIDS in Africa. You can listen to Monalisa and David on his show here. Mr. Kimmel seemed as taken and amazed by Monalisa as we all were. There is a man who genuinely cares what is happening to people and you have to respect and admire that.

Later that afternoon we headed over to the Catabwa Cares Coalition. A side note here: if you live anywhere around Rock Hill SC go and volunteer here! This is an incredible organization led by an incredible team. You can contact them about volunteering here.

What happened later that evening was truly incredible. Our contact at Winthrop University seemed nervous about the crowd size before the event. Pre-event jitters I guess you would call them. She really didn't have too much to worry about.

Winthrop University ended up being one of our largest audiences. On top of that a significant number of people from the audience said they were interested in volunteering. I know a lot of people gauge the success of an event by what the press says the next day. I gauge the success by how many students will not only attend an event the night before exams start but by the sheer number of them that will commit to volunteering.

I watched the students as they listened to Monalisa speak. I watched them first kind of slumping over not paying the closest attention. As Monalisa began weaving her story with the struggle of South Africa and with the impact of decisions made here in the US these people began to listen intently. I saw eyes register surprise when Monalisa began describing why abstinence doesn't work. I saw understanding nods as Monalisa advocated for better education on condoms. I saw outright shock when Monalisa elaborated about the place of a woman in South African culture.

If one person left that auditorium empowered to change the world -- all the tiredness in the world is worth it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day Three: Mountain Movers Part 2

As we moved into the sanctuary for the service things were in a fog for me. I was still trying to process this amazing story from this amazing person I would be spending the rest of the week with. One thing however did catch my attention. Rev. Duffield spoke of her son, Joseph, during her sermon. I had heard stories of this remarkable young man before but never the details.

Joseph saw a special on TV one day about how little it cost to provide life saving drugs to people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. He then went to his mother and asked her to help him pen a letter to their Congressman, Representative John Spratt. While most people would have written the letter and felt they had done their duty giving a voice to the voiceless; Joseph took another step. He founded the Pennies for Pills project.

Pennies for Pills is simple. People put their spare change in jars at their local churches and stores. Joseph went to these places and explained what he was doing and asked permission. He said his goal was $2000 that he would then donate to the Keep a Child Alive Foundation. Joseph also mentioned to me that he wanted to start up his own non-profit this summer and was in the middle of researching grants.

Did I mention that Pennies for Pills has raised over $5200 and counting so far?

Did I mention Joseph was only 9?

Inspiration is all around us -- just open your eyes to see it.

I saw it in this little church who welcomed us with open arms. I saw it Joseph Duffield as he told me he wants to run for office someday to make the world right again. I saw in Joseph's Dad as he and David Bryden discussed mission work and micro-finance projects in Latin America that their church could undertake. I saw it in Joseph's younger sisters who latched onto Monalisa and spent lunch vying for her attention
and learning about another culture.

Today I got to see inspiration happen and it was beautiful.

Day Three: Mountain Movers Part 1

After discovering that our hotel's continental breakfast included a waffle iron I didn't think anything could bring me down from that high. I was more than wrong; today was an intense roller coaster of a day that left me more joyous and inspired than a make your own waffle station ever could.

After introducing Monalisa to the joys of a waffle station and enjoying one myself; the three of us hurried out to the car and headed to Tirzah Presbyterian Church whose minister, Rev. Jill Duffield had kindly invited us to participate in both Sunday School and the Worship service.

On the way there we got lost. This is a recurring theme throughout not only this trip -- but my life. Luckily I budgeted extra time for just such a catastrophe.

We arrived at church just in time for Sunday School. We were all unsure as to how to proceed. This was our very first stop and no matter how much you talk about it and plan for it -- the first stop always presents some jitters. As we sat at the table and Monalisa began to speak all eyes were on her. She told a story -- no her story -- of growing up in South Africa, of experiencing things that we like to believe only happened in days past, bringing her three children into the world, striving to make something of her life and just simply trying to make the world a better place for everyone. She spoke of the violence she faced inside her home, she spoke of abuse from the very people who were supposed to protect her, and she spoke of taking tragedy and using it as her inspiration to join TAC. There wasn't a dry eye in the entire room.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Day Two: Off We Go

Today is the day! We (David, Monalisa and I) are meeting at the office to grab a cab, hop a plane and travel to beautiful Charlotte NC.

At the airport I introduced Monalisa to that fine American establishment, Subway and she and I began discussing different names for foods in our country (yes the burger/bagel incident came up). She told me all about the different ways corn meal is used and I explained hush puppies and BBQ. I think this is going to be quite the cultural exchange and we are all going to learn quite a bit.

Tonight we are resting in the luxurious Palmetto State before we wake up early to head to Tirzah Presbyterian Church for the first event of our week long tour.

Day One: I thought you wanted a bagel!

Today is the day I have been working towards since I started here at GAA. Today is the official arrival of our speaker from the Treatment Access Campaign, Monalisa Ngqisha. She arrived safe and sound at Dulles this morning at 6am. So needless today this morning was a very early one!

Once I got to the airport I waited eagerly outside of customs to greet Monalisa. After living and breathing this tour through all the travel details and event arrangement for the last several months I feel like I know her already.

Once she got through customs (nearly three hours after landing!) and we got preliminarily acquainted as we moved our way towards my car I asked Monalisa if she wanted any breakfast. I distinctly heard her say she wanted a bagel. I mean at 9 am if you ask for something that begins with a b and has a g in the middle and is 2 syllables -- it must be a bagel right?

As I got Monalisa settled at the hotel I remembered the aforementioned bagel and I dashed down to a little stand to grab one for her. I went back upstairs all pleased with myself that things were going so smoothly. As I handed her the bagel and fruit I purchased she looked at me like I was off my rocker.

"What is this?" Monalisa asked with a beautifully lilting South African accent clearly having no idea what this round bread-y object with a hole in it is.
"It's a bagel." I replied clearly confused and crestfallen over my apparent mistake.
"Is it sweet?"
"No...it's a bagel...it's like a breakfast bread."

By this time I was mortified. I had no idea what she was asking for and she was exhausted. So she tried the bagel seemed satisfied and I told her where the hotel restaurant was so she could track down this elusive B food.

When I got back to the office, I asked around. No one seemed to know what the food could have been. So David decided to take matters into his own hands and ask Monalisa himself.

Turns out she wanted a burger.

And yes telling this story still makes my face turn red in embarrassment.

Luckily our tour briefing went well this afternoon and all of our travel details are secured. Look out Rock Hill, SC. Here we come!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Prologue: Monalisa's Story

Born in East London, Eastern Cape in 1973, Monalisa grew up in the tumultuous political landscape of the time. She was politically active from a young age, organizing with fellow learners for the rights of students during the apartheid regime. In 1986 she had to flee her school because of riots, and completed high school in Dimbaza, where she continued her political involvement. Her political leadership led to her nomination as student representative on the school committee. Monalisa lived through the fear and trauma of the now infamous police raids on her home, punishment for her father’s political involvement.

Monalisa’s mother left when she was 3 months old, and her upbringing fell to her paternal grandmother. Believing that boys were more valuable, Monalisa suffered verbal and emotional abuse from her grandmother. This favoritism led Monalisa’s brother to believe he had power over her. He tried to force her to have sexual relations with his friends; when she refused, her brother stabbed her. Monalisa laid a charge against her brother for the assault, to the displeasure of her grandmother, who subsequently refused to pay for Monalisa to finish high school. Monalisa was thus forced to drop the charges. Despite this, in her final year of high school, her grandmother stopped paying her school fees. Monalisa was forced to take small jobs selling fruit in order to feed herself and to further her studies. However, despite her best efforts, she could not afford to finish high school.

Monalisa tried to leave home to escape the economic and emotional abuse; like so many women are forced to do, she moved in with her boyfriend and his family in the hope of finding financial security and a less abusive environment. When her boyfriend became abusive, regularly beating Monalisa, she felt she had nowhere to go. When she did return home, her grandmother laughed at her, and when she found work, her grandmother would demand all her money, while her brother destroyed any possession she tried to acquire.

After her father and grandmother died, the responsibility of her family of eight, including her three children, fell to Monalisa. She was also reunited with her mother, who she learned was HIV positive. Monalisa remembers that “AIDS was introduced to us as a monster”; her mother, a teacher, faced horrendous discrimination at work and in her community. This drove Monalisa to want to learn more about HIV/AIDS. So, in 2002, she joined the Treatment Action Campaign.

Monalisa joined the Masikhule Branch in Mdantsane. Her political acumen and fine intellect were quickly noticed, and Monalisa was appointed as an Education Officer, responsible for educating branch members on Treatment Literacy - one of the TAC’s core programmes. She then became a full time Treatment Literacy Practitioner, was elected to the Provincial Executive Committee as Secretary and served as the Acting Provincial Organiser for the Eastern Cape. Monalisa was nominated to the Women’s Reference Group, both provincially and nationally, and has completed the TAC and Gender AIDS Forum three-phase Women in Leadership training programme. Her work on women’s rights and gender has become a priority because “domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and rape are the daily realities we face as women in our community.”

As a vocal, committed activist and strong leader, Monalisa regularly represents TAC in local, regional and international forums. Most recently, she led a TAC delegation at the World Social Forum in Kenya, where her leadership and strategic engagement proved critical in raising key issues at the Forum. She is currently assisting the Eastern Cape TAC Office in organising the Provincial Imbizos designed to ensure critical input from communities into the National Strategic Plan on HIV, AIDS and STIs drafting process underway in South Africa.

Monalisa’s words

Addressing violence against women is critical because, combined with the realities of our patriarchal society and the crisis of unemployment and poverty, women are increasingly vulnerable to HIV.

Gender inequalities mean that the sexual autonomy of a woman is curtailed. Because of poverty and economic factors I have had to be with a man. I have experienced violence and abuse, in my home, by my brother, by my grandmother, by my boyfriend. On occasion, I have also experienced abuse in my place of work – because I am a woman.

We as women are more vulnerable to HIV, because of poverty, because of the unemployment crisis, because of social powers that exist in our society, because of patriarchy, because of violence against women. As an organisation dealing with AIDS, feminism is central to changing social factors which cause us to be more vulnerable to AIDS. I understand feminism to mean women leading with a transformative agenda that connects gender power and social change; it means women’s leadership to influence agendas with the formal power and capacity to leverage large scale changes in policies, legal rights, social attitudes and power relations. It is critical that we address our daily realities – domestic violence, abuse and rape – to build a competent society. Gender imbalances between men and women must be transformed to entrench women’s autonomy over our own health, bodies and lives.

Aluta continua! Not yet uhuru! (Uhuru – freedom, independence, equality)

Monalisa is a mother of two boys, sixteen and seven-years-old, and a five-year-old daughter. She lives in Amatole, Eastern Cape.