A Vision of Hope

09 Jun 2008

Assalamou Alaikoum- Peace be upon you.

Brothers and Sisters,

It is my honour and pleasure to address you tonight.

As people inspired by faith, we know the importance of hope in our lives.

And nowhere is this hope more important than in our response to people affected by HIV and AIDS.

We know that hope brings knowledge where there is ignorance, restores dignity where there is contempt, and reignites the flame of life where there is fear of death.


Brothers and Sisters, My friends,

It is up to each of us to kindle that flame so that it can burn bright.

I have seen the flame of hope dwindle to a barely visible flicker.

The flame of hope is sensitive to the prevailing winds around it.

It can be nearly extinguished by expressions of disgust, cruelty and rejection.

But it is also resilient—I have seen the flame burn brighter through a helping hand, a supportive voice, and a friend to lean on.

The flame of hope burns brighter when there is passion and compassion, leadership and vision.

The truth is that all of us, in our families and communities, are keepers of the flame.

As human beings, there is no greater commandment than to love and take care of each other.

As United Nations officials, the heart of our job is to stand up for human dignity and human rights.

I find hope in religious leaders who speak out openly and honestly about AIDS in words devoid of condemnation and full of support.

I find hope in faith-based organizations that provide hope and care for children who are AIDS orphans, for women and men whose partners have died of AIDS, and for those who are suffering.

I find hope in faith-based organizations that provide guidance and counselling and possibly services to young people.

And I find hope in religious leaders who speak up for the rights of women and girls, who are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic, especially in Africa.

I will tell you a personal story. I lost my grand-daughter to AIDS. A few years ago, I was visiting a maternal centre in one of Nigeria’s states. A woman was giving birth and she delivered a beautiful and healthy baby girl a little moment before I entered the centre.

So, I talked to the mother and held the baby. A month later, I was informed by the UNFPA Country Office that the mother had named the little baby Thoraya. So, I had a grandchild in Nigeria.

I asked my colleagues to celebrate this event by giving the traditional gifts that grandmothers would give to a grand-daughter in that community. I received pictures of Thoraya in a beautiful white dress, with her mother receiving the gifts. The sad part is that Thoraya was born after her father had died.

When Thoraya became two years old, I asked my colleagues to put in place an education trust fund to which I could contribute to ensure her education. To my sadness, I was informed that Thoraya had passed away because of AIDS and that her mother had followed soon afterwards.

This is the sad story of a whole family—father, mother and child—which died as victims of AIDS. They did not know their status, they were not counselled and, thus, they were not able to protect themselves or later to protect their baby.

This is the sad part that we hear about. But there are also heroic and courageous stories that give us hope.

I find hope in an HIV-positive woman named Eloise, who threads her way through a maze of shacks, offering support to others who are HIV-positive.

She is an outreach worker in a clinic supported by the United Nations. She is determined to reach out.

“When someone was infected, they used to chase them out of the house,” says Eloise. “But we need to help them because their partners leave them and their families throw them out.”

Today, in communities across the globe, there are beautiful committed individuals, whose flames are burning bright. They are reaching out to others to spread knowledge in order to strengthen prevention and provide care and support to those who need it.

Today, I am pleased to report that through our collective efforts, prevention, treatment, care and support continue to spread.

Our goal is universal access by 2010. But we have to do so much more.

We have to keep pushing. And we have to urgently scale up efforts for HIV prevention. Last year, five people were newly infected for every two people who received AIDS treatment. At this pace, we will never get ahead of the epidemic.


My friends,

If AIDS has taught us anything, it is that we must be persistent and we must be passionate about facing HIV and compassionate about those who are affected by it. We must strive for universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

We must embrace the full spectrum of humanity. This means that we accept our differences and embrace each other and stand together united.

We have found unity tonight at this interfaith service. And let us carry this unity forward when we leave this beautiful St. Peter’s Church.

Let us always remember, through our faiths, we are keepers of the flame of hope.

As human beings, there is no more important job on earth than keeping the flame alive.

I thank you.

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