This past month we also gathered together with many friends, advocates, and colleges for the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Service 2016. This is the third year that we have participated in this activity in our city and it seems to get me more choked up each year. The first year we attended we lit candles for only a few women whom we knew that had passed away. The second year we had more candles to light and a heavier heart as one of our friends and helpers in the outreach program who was near and dear to our hearts had passed on. This year, as we counted even more candles than the years before, I also was asked to share briefly at the ceremony.
It was an honor to acknowledge these lives that have gone ahead of us. The theme of the ceremony this year was “Love confessions: Know Your Status”, something that we at Glory Reborn work hard each month to ensure all our mommies in the program do know their HIV status. Another part of our program is to educate our staff, our mothers, their partners, anyone willing to listen in an effort to reduce stigma. With knowledge comes understanding and out of understanding fear can become a loving embrace.
As a single, white girl from Texas I arrived in Cebu nearly 16 years ago with a desire to see quality, compassionate, holistic healthcare offered to the marginalized mothers and babies. I knew very little at that time about HIV. In fact, my first interaction of knowing HIV existed in Cebu was during a late night red light outreach with the ever amazing Catholic Father Heinz. I thank God for what I saw that night; a loving embrace, a tearful but joyous smile and the evidence of support, empowerment and acceptance. That was eight years ago, aside from a funeral that I attended with Father Heinz, my next personal encounter would be with a mother which stirred my own passion to be a part of the HIV network in Cebu. I believe this Cebu network has something really special; aside from its juicy mangoes and friendly people, is its solidarity, it’s intense passion and mission to engage, educate and empower a community, an island, a nation to know their status.
Beyond knowing their status is the desire to find hope in the support network which is each of us working together, praying together, grieving, rejoicing, and supporting in loving our neighbor, our friend, and one another in this community. Working with mothers and babies I feel the urgency of this cause to help mothers know their status, to help prevent transmission to babies, and as Philippians 3:12 says, “Not that I have already attained or already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me”, and I believe there is great hope ahead.
As we gathered together to light candles for those who paved the way before us we also took up the torch to continue to work in unity and in love as a “Love Confession for everyone to Know Their Status and let me add Hope is Ahead”. For the world shall know that we are followers of Jesus through our love. I am so thankful for the journey this community has taken me on. Glory Reborn is excited to continue to help women know their status and be the support network for them as we grow together to love one another and reduce the stigma of HIV in our city.