When was the last time I saw you? Wow, that long ago? Was that summer 2003? What have I been up to? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
After I last saw you, I hopped on a plan to West Africa. For the next two years, I was living in a mud hut on the edge of the earth. Peace Corps taught me Bambara and how to grow corn and beans, and then left me in the middle of nowhere. I remember watching that white Toyota 4X4 pull away in to the dust of the evening and thinking to myself, “Is this my life?” Much of what I learned in that small remote village I get to apply today in my work with
I had not lived in the states for four years, and there was no way I would be able to support my family and find a job that I loved. I was seriously considering moving my family to panhandle Florida and sell insurance just to make sure my family would be OK.
Luckily, something happened, and I won the contract to be the DHAPP Program Manager for the Office of Security Cooperation. At no point after working for DHAPP did I ever feel like what we were doing didn’t matter. I was working directly with West African militaries to help improve their HIV/AIDS programs. The work that we did together had a direct benefit to the soldiers of those militaries, their families, and their communities. I had such a great privilege to work with the individuals that are involved with at DHAPP HQ, Embassy OSC and Country Teams, and most importantly the host militaries whose drive and motivation are engines that are driving these nations forward in the face of insurmountable constraints.
After moving to DHAPP headquarters, I have been given the great opportunity to look at our situation from the West African regional level. I feel like my intervention can be extremely positive. I believe that everything to this point has been pieces of the whole that are coming together.
I learned the culture of West Africa from my village life and my village name, and therefore I am not a stranger to those I haven’t met and a cousin to those that I have. The languages we use bridge the gaps of Western distance, and they seat us all at the same table and in a shared context. The issues and the epidemic are concrete, and our approach is one that can be applied to the most ridged of military officials.
Moving forward, I will get to work with these neighboring militaries and HIV/AIDS programs in West Africa to develop a regional approach that shares the positive aspects of each of these programs and strengthened capacities to improve the programs in the militaries of our neighbors and cousins.
As I write from the 2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, I am sharing a passion with others like me from all over the world. We share in the devastation of this issue, we will share it its fight and its difficulties, and we will all share in our progress and our success.