A few months ago, the honorable Dr. Desrey Fox, Minister of Education for Guyana and activist in the fight against HIV died from injuries sustained from a car collision. I couldn't believe it. My jaw dropped, as I listened to my mother articulate this news to me through the telephone receiver. I hung up the phone, sat back in my chair and started absentmindedly rubbing my forehead, as though this was a riddle that I needed to solve and once I solved it, the news of my friend's death would no longer be true. I heard myself sigh and something in that sound forced me to stop trying to mentally twist the news into something palatable. Here was the reality -- the children of Guyana had suddenly lost a social advocate and I had lost a friend and collaborator. "My collaborator!" I remembered, "Oh no! The outreach campaign!"
Guyana is amongst the highest in the Caribbean regarding the spread of HIV and AIDS (although Guyana is geographically located in South America it's considered to be part of Caribbean, as it share this region's history). It's estimated that there is an adult prevalence of about 2.4 percent and that it indeed is the leading killer of people between the ages of 20-49. In a country of less than one million, this is alarming and cause for concern.
I surmised that the cost of practicing safe sex was most likely the biggest obstacle to prevention. The Guyanese government has been aggressive in addressing the threat of AIDS and with success. Nonetheless, I found these facts distressing and wished to be a part of the solution. Guyana is the country of my mother's birth, my family's roots and my heritage. Its warmth continues to play a huge role in informing my sense of self in a way that is very meaningful. I decided that I wished to send thousands of safe-sex supplies to the country. Once Dr. Fox agreed to distribute my shipment throughout the cities and villages, I got moving. The campaign was a success. At the time of her accident, I was organizing the third shipment, but now, she's gone.
Now my anger and irritation set in, "She was so young!" I said to myself, "In her early fifties, she had so much more to give in service to her community. She had earned two master's degrees and a Ph.D. She was a shining example of excellence to the Amerindian community, and a good friend. I heard myself sigh again. I finally let myself feel the grief and became increasingly concerned with what seemed to be the end of the critical safe-sex outreach campaign we had begun.
My fear had obscured my belief in myself as valuable, but with Desrey gone I was forced to believe in my vision or abandon the efforts. I chose the former and I've never regretted that decision.
The best way to honor my friend's memory was to work through the fears and remain plugged in and engaged.
If we have the courage to be of service, wherever we are in life, we can be sure that nothing but good can come of it; I'm speaking from experience.
Follow Alyson Renaldo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CherylsDghtr