Today December 1st is World AIDS Day. I remember the first time that World AIDS Day really struck a cord with me; it was 7 years ago today in South Africa. I was finishing up my volunteer trip—the trip that changed my entire reality. During those months, my eyes and my heart had been opened by the amazing people that I met and the horrible things that I witnessed so much so that I would never see or feel the world the same again.  Some examples of these horrifying moments are: trying to help a child deal with loss of the parent due to AIDS, comforting a young woman (my age) with AIDS in her last hours of life, working with Hospice to help people and their families prepare for death of loved ones due to this disease or cuddling a 6 month old baby while the Hospice nurses try to save her mother’s life. The list just goes on and on... and this disease has caused and continues to cause so much pain.

However, there are always little lights of love even in the midst of darkness. The children in a support group run by a Hospice nurse named Rhona were those lights for me. The support group was made up of children ages 4-16 that have either been infected with HIV/AIDS or affected somehow—i.e. losing a family member. They came together once a week, danced, sang, and performed plays all having to do with AIDS. They sang songs about dropping the stigma associated with the disease, about loving and accepting people that are infected. They discussed prevention and how you can hug and cuddle with an infected person all day long with no risk. I learned so much about the disease through these sweet children. They had all been through so much and would continue to endure more than anyone should; yet they had joy and love because they had support.

So on December 1st, 2005 I attended a World AIDS Day community candlelight vigil with the Support Group. They performed some of their songs for the community and did a play. Then we all prayed and stood holding our candles in silence... remembering those that have lost their lives to this deadly disease. I remember looking at their young faces as they held the candles and thought about their loved ones that they had lost—even as I think about it today I am overwhelmed with so much emotion. Since that moment I have met countless other children both in South Africa and Kenya whose lives have been destroyed by this disease. The insurmountable pain this disease has caused on a global scale is impossible to wrap your head around—so let’s work with our hearts instead.

We should honor those we lost, be loving to those living with the disease, educate ourselves and others about the facts, protect ourselves, spread love and awareness to destroy the stigmas and remember that we are all in this together—just one big Support Group for each other!