NEW YORK: The great legacy of AID FOR AIDS lies in the human team that works elbow to elbow with Jesús Aguais and shares his passion. Maria Eugenia Maury, President of the Board of Directors of the foundation, is a woman with a fragile aspect and a strong character. She has participated in the AID FOR AIDS battles for 13 years. Listening to a talk by Jesús who «in three years had done a stupendous job» was what convinced her to accept the great responsibility of being inside an organization in which the lives of many people depend. The challenges do not scare her because she knows that «if you do things with passion and heart you overcome any obstacle».
She appreciates the great need for medication among people with HIV living in countries where it is difficult to get them. She also knows that you have to fight against a closed and discriminatory mentality that often times can be more harmful than the virus itself, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean «because everyone talks about the pandemics in Africa that kill entire villages but nobody talks about Latin America and all the problems faced by HIV positive people. The discriminatory attitude that stigmatizes those who have this problem forces a silence on them, and in this case silence kills.»
Her excitement is evident as she recalls some of the cases that she followed closely. Cases involving children «who did not ask to be born and are not to blame for being born with the virus,» as well as a woman in Santo Domingo who wanted to meet Maria Eugenia to thank her for the life that had been given to her. «There are many women with HIV, some that do not know it until they have a baby.»
Every year Maria Eugenia and AID FOR AIDS organize a Gala to raise funds. They count on the support of a group of friends, many of them artists, who help organize every detail, including a silent auction. This year the Gala will be a challenge because, thanks to support from other sponsors, Maria Eugenia was able to get space at the Metropolitan Museum. There between art and beauty, in one of the most important and representative locations in New York, Maria Eugenia, Jesús and his group will celebrate life. «Our work is hard because there are many people still infecting themselves and are still dying. So our Galas try to send a positive and optimistic message.» A friend who works at Christie’s opened the doors of the famous auction house to sell the works they collected.
Jaime, a Colombian, has been at Jesús’ side from the beginning of AID FOR AIDS. Today he is the Director of Operations and oversees the entire organization. “All our programs,” he tells us, “have specific objectives and can be measured with clear indicators. We can analyze the amount of people who we are helping, the number of drugs we donate, the number of teenagers and teachers who we train, etc. This control allows us to see if we have achieved the objectives.”
He is eager to remind us of the patients that he has had the opportunity to meet personally over the years. Jaime profoundly values the action of AID FOR AIDS. «Even in the most painful moments, when one of our beneficiaries dies, especially if it is a teenager who we have been following since he was a child, we can see the importance of moving forward with this work. This pain pushes me to fight so that the whole world, regardless of where they are living, can have access to health care and a dignified life.
This Venezuelan woman’s passion for her work is irresistible. She has been coordinating and directing the education programs for more than ten years and follows a method approved by the World Health Organization entitled the «Skills for Life» program. It is a method that employs neuro-linguistic programming.
Lupe explains that this approach allows one to identify and dismantle false beliefs that revolve around HIV, AIDS and sexuality in general, updating them with simple and accurate information.
“We explain to young people the value of loving and respecting themselves. Gradually they learn to appreciate their bodies, their capabilities. Language is very important,” continues Lupe Aguais. “The words reflect our way of facing life and can have a positive or negative impact on our future.”
The educational program of AID FOR AIDS has been so successful and demand has grown such that Lupe and her team decided to form trainers to multiply their effects.
“The results are very rewarding,” she confesses with a smile. “Today young people trained five or six years ago return to make contact with us. They have already graduated from college. They come with other people their age and are the living proof of the changes that this program can engender in the life of a teenager.” The educational program also applies to the population that AID FOR AIDS follows in New York.
Lupe re-emphasizes the importance of language and the impact it can have on people’s immune systems. “There are many differences between the way you evaluate yourself with words: as a sick person, as an infected person, or say that you have a health situation. In the first case, you express helplessness, and therefore you have less incentive for further treatment. In the second case, you show the will to be healthy. Accordingly, you consider medical treatment as an ally of health.
We know that young people will be the ones who will change the course of things,” Lupe concludes. They are the ones who will overcome the many taboos and learn to manage their sexuality seriously and consciously. We hope that every person understands that life has to be lived and always enjoyed, whatever happens. Prevention is important, and so is how to face any difficult situation with serenity.