Back in 2004, I found myself in a remarkable place: sitting with a group of doctors in the government offices of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on an AIDS fact-finding trip. As a stay-at-home mom of three, this was not my usual stomping ground.
But several years ago Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, came through the Midwest on his Heart of America Tour. While it was Bono's star power that drew me that night, it was the presentation on the ravishing effects of extreme poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS that changed my life.
After hearing that sobering message, I woke up from my suburban stupor of Target and Starbucks. I woke up to the reality that today 1 billion people live on less that a dollar a day. I woke up to the reality that I can make a difference, and I started educating myself and others.
I joined Bono's ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, nondenominational campaign of 2.4 million everyday people joining together to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty.
With the ONE Campaign I have had extraordinary experiences. As an ordinary, stay-at-home mom, who represents the heart of the movement, I was chosen to travel to both Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005 and to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2006 to attend the G8 Summit to urge world leaders to keep their promises to Africa and fully fund initiatives to fight global diseases like AIDS, TB, and malaria, increase international assistance, cancel debts, and make trade fair. I have spoken at a press conference, been in a public Service announcement with Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Matt Damon, and been interviewed by CNN, NBC, and the Wall Street Journal.
I met Bono at a show for his fair-trade label, EDUN, in Chicago, where he also spoke. He said, "The National Rifle Association pays lobbyists big bucks to take their interests to Congress. We are the lobbyists for those who don't have those kinds of means." With ONE, I email and call the White House and my Congressmen. As a member of the ONE Campaign I have a voice.
I first realized this in a meeting with the Honduran vice minister of health back in 2004. The vice minister is responsible for distributing the money from the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and malaria, and I was able to ask some questions about the HIV/AIDS situation in Honduras. A true diplomat, the vice minister ended our meeting with smiles, handshakes, and goodbyes, addressing us as "The Delegation of the Lost Cause."
Since this was the beginning of my journey into global AIDS advocacy and activism, I suppose I could've felt the sting of the insult. Instead, I left that meeting thinking, "I must be on to something." The words of Scripture, "Be a voice for voiceless," started to be a silent rhythm in my steps.
In 2005 I traveled to Kenya with my church. While in Kenya I visited an HIV/AIDS clinic, and I watched as a woman left with some life-saving medication in her hands. Her small son trailed behind. I turned to the nurse next to me and asked where the medication came from. As the nurse told me, I realized the ARVs (Anti-Retrovirals) came from the funding I, along with other Americans, had lobbied President Bush and Congress to support.
I still smile as I think about that Kenyan mother. It's true that some extraordinary things have happened through my involvement with the ONE Campaign, but mostly I'm that ordinary stay-at-home mom who's now a voice for the voiceless.