I have been in Zambia for two weeks now. My journey has been an amazing one—inspiring, heartbreaking, and truly transformative for me.
In my job, I work with women around the world to tell their stories to an international audience. Every day, I connect online with grassroots women leaders around important development issues like poverty, conflict, gender-based violence, and health. I get to see the efforts women are spearheading to combat these issues. I get to help make these efforts known, and I get to form deep and lasting bonds with women I may otherwise not have met. This is the power of World Pulse. This is the power of connectivity and digital media.
Being on the ground in Zambia has taught me so much about what women are truly facing, especially when it comes to global health. Since arriving, I have been meeting with World Pulse community members almost every day—and I am struck by their resilience, their passion, and their commitment to their country. It’s an energy I see from women all across our community, and it is an honor to witness it first hand in a nation like Zambia.
Zambia faces many challenges, the most obvious being the deadly AIDS virus that has swept this country for the last two decades. I knew this going in, that 14.3% of this nation’s population is HIV+, but I don’t think the reality of what that means set in for me until arriving on the ground.
Every woman I have met has a story: she is HIV+, or she has lost a relative to the disease; or she has a friend who is deeply ill. One World Pulse member told me she has lost 30 relatives to the disease over the past two decades. Unfortunately, her experience is not an anomaly.
I am working with women to tell their stories about HIV specifically, and I am deeply moved by the narratives I am hearing. They are powerful. They are heartbreaking. And they need to be told. You can read them here, on the World Pulse Magazine page. There will be a slow trickle of stories as I complete each interview and edit each piece. I hope you will read and connect with these strong women who are bravely sharing their experiences with the world. As I said, these stories need to be told.
There is heartbreak here, but there is also hope. In many ways, Zambia is on the cutting edge of HIV prevention. It is one of the four countries identified by Secretary Clinton as a country that is on track to being an HIV free zone. There is a strong commitment from Zambia’s government to reduce rates of transmission and to treat those who are already infected. Ten years ago, 4,000 people were accessing ART (antiretroviral therapy). Today, that number is up to 500,000.
World Pulse women tell me they are living their lives despite their statuses. They tell me they are leading initiatives to raise awareness about transmission. They tell me about medical miracles that have allowed them to give birth to children who are HIV negative. They tell me about their activist efforts to change the Zambian culture that often puts women at higher risk. And they tell me they are yearning to have their stories and their voices heard.
It is an honor to do this work, and it is an honor to witness the transformation that Zambia is undergoing. I hope one day to be able to return to Zambia—to see where the country is in five, ten, fifteen years. I hope for a day when Zambia can claim a generation of HIV negative children; and I hope for a day when the women of Zambia are recognized for their leadership in fighting the very real health issues that have brutal consequences for Zambia’s people—because these women are at the forefront of change in Zambia. They are the future of this beautiful nation.