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Let's play a game. I'll give you a word, and you associate it with the first thing that pops into your head.
What did you think of right away? Maybe you had a flash of good memories and comfort. Maybe you said "food" or "happy" or "love." On the other hand, perhaps anxiety or tension was your first response: "fights," "anger," "stress." In this game, the only right answer is an honest one.
Okay, let's try another word: "friends."
Did you come up with "forever," "fun," or "good times"? Or were you having sad thoughts of loss or rejection?
One more word: "health."
"Exercise." "Vitamins." "Water." "Nutrition." "Sickness." "Doctor." Hey, you're getting good at this.
Now that we're warmed up, let's try one that's a little more difficult. What do you think of when you read "HIV/AIDS"?
Come on. Anybody? Remember, the only right answer is an honest one.
"Death." "Suffering." "Cure." "Red ribbons." "Gay." "Needles." "Africa." "I don't want to think about that."
I appreciate the last answer. That's a really honest one. Why think about something so devastating when you can't do anything about it, anyway? In fact, most people will not take an interest in this very serious subject unless a friend or family member is directly affected. That's understandable. But understand this: HIV/AIDS is in our family. Maybe it's not in your particular immediate or extended family, but it is affecting too many in our communities. No race, ethnicity, or faith is immune; the human family now suffers from HIV/AIDS.
"Well, even if it is closer to home than I thought," you might say, "what can I do about it?" There is something -- there are a few important things, in fact -- that you personally can do. Even if you are not a doctor, a politician, a minister, or a friend or relative of someone who is facing this disease, you can help build the firewall against HIV/AIDS, and build a more welcoming world for those who are already directly affected by it.
I just want to give you the straight deal on what's happening in the world, and in our communities, with HIV/AIDS these days. We have known about the virus -- HIV -- for twenty-five years. Smart, caring people have been working on the problem for about that long. It's still a serious problem, but now we have treatments and many more ways of getting care to people, even to those who are poorest and hardest to reach in the world. The best success story is this: the ranks of smart, caring people are growing. That's because people like you, who might once have believed there was no point in thinking about HIV/AIDS, are now thinking, learning, and telling others what they know.
I'm no medical expert. Nor did I write this book as someone discussing a virus called HIV. I wrote it as a man concerned about his community. In our work in community development -- building homes, schools, job training centers, and health centers -- we have learned a lot about the impact one person can have on a family, a neighborhood, a city, or the world.
To help you better understand some of the information provided in this book, we present the story of Marc and Delia, a married couple whose lives, along with the lives of their entire family, are irrevocably changed by the presence of HIV/AIDS. Please note that Marc, Delia, and the family members and friends in this book are fictional; however, their tragedy is all too real for the millions of people who live with HIV/AIDS in the family. As you read Marc and Delia's story, it is extremely important for you to ignore the fact that they are characters, and accept what they represent. They could be people you know -- family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers. The young man who packs your groceries into a bag at the supermarket; the elderly woman you see on the bus as you go to work every day; the child who attends school with your son or daughter.
Sadly, how our imaginary family deals with Marc and Delia's awful circumstances can also be considered fictional in most cases. However, it does represent hope -- hope for what our reallife community could become if people didn't give in to fear, pride, and deafening silence. The purpose of our story is not to scare you or suggest to you that the problem of HIV/AIDS has become hopeless. The purpose is to help us first acknowledge that there is a problem, because by doing so, we move much closer to a solution.
Hay una respuesta -- there is an answer. And that answer begins with you.
I invite you to go at any time to our website, esperanza.us, for more information about HIV/AIDS and what you can do to fight it. I also invite you to join thousands of others who have taken the Pacto -- the Esperanza pledge.
-- The Reverend Luis Cortés Jr.
Copyright © 2006 by Luis Cortés, Jr.
HIV/AIDS Can Affect Anyone
A Family in Trouble
The Global Reach of HIV/AIDS
The New Trouble Spots
The Reported Successes
Some Sobering Realities
Working It Out
Responses to HIV/AIDS: Making Progress
A Pastoral Perspective
More Bad News
Becoming Part of the Solution
What Can I Personally Do?
For (Brave) Men Only
The Final Hours
A Letter from Marcus
Appendix: Helpful Organizations Throughout the United States