I remember sitting in my seat on the airplane as it circled over Washington, D.C., impatient for it to land. This was going to be my second trip to the United States, and I was very excited.
I was invited here by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation to speak at the Foundation's headquarters in Washington, D.C, meet with members of Congress, and participate in a large student fundraiser, the Dance Marathon at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
As an ambassador for the Foundation, I am familiar with these types of activities, which I usually participate in locally in Uganda. I use my experience as an HIV-positive young adult to educate others about pediatric AIDS and our ability to eliminate the epidemic in children and adults.
Having benefited from counseling and psychosocial services from the Foundation since I was a young girl, I was excited to visit Washington to meet with supporters, policymakers, and staff. I shared with them my personal story of growing up HIV-positive, and answered questions about my role as a peer counselor in my community.
We spoke about HIV prevention, and how the U.S. has helped efforts to eliminate pediatric AIDS in my country of Uganda. We also talked about the generosity of the American people, and how they are supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS around the world through their work with many global organizations like the Foundation.
These conversations were motivating, and made me excited to travel to California to meet with my peers at UCLA.
The Dance Marathon at UCLA became one of the most memorable parts of my trip. The Dance Marathon is a student-organized fundraiser where about 1,000 college students come together to dance for 26 hours straight to raise money and show support for organizations fighting HIV/AIDS.
My participation in such an incredible event was life-changing. In a room full of American students my age, I was able to see that regardless of where we come from, we are all passionate about saving lives.
I felt empowered by their commitment, and I hope my attendance gave them the encouragement they needed to dance for all 26 hours.
I met so many new people, sharing my story and educating them about pediatric AIDS in Uganda. I showed them that the steps they were taking over those 26 hours were changing lives, including my own. I told them how their involvement was helping the Foundation and its partners prevent new HIV infections in babies, and allowing HIV-positive children like me to grow up healthy.
Being a Foundation beneficiary, Dance Marathon at UCLA meant the world to me.
There I witnessed a spirit of unity and generosity I have never known. The students' commitment to the elimination of pediatric AIDS motivates me to continue to do everything I can to further the cause in Uganda.
I left America tired but happy (and with a suitcase full of candy and gifts for my sisters). I will always remember this trip, Dance Marathon at UCLA, and the students who made me feel so welcome.
I look forward to returning to America in the future. Until then, I'll remember that in all of the work that I do to help my community fight HIV/AIDS, I will always have partners in America, like the students from UCLA.
Josephine Nabukenya is an 18-year-old, HIV-positive young woman from Kampala, Uganda. As an Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Josephine has traveled to the United States twice: First, in 2005 when she addressed U.S. policymakers in a congressional briefing on pediatric AIDS hosted by the Foundation, and earlier this month to participate in the annual Dance Marathon at UCLA and to once again bring her message to Washington, D.C.