What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. - Saint Augustine
A couple of months ago, on a warm September afternoon, I sat down to have lunch with my mom and my friend Winnie. My parents had been wanting to meet her for the longest time because I was constantly meeting up with her to work on different activities for her foundation, Winnie Musonda Foundation (WM Foundation). A lot of people have asked what the foundation is about and what is the motive behind it. I’ll do my best to narrate the story behind WM Foundation as best as I can from what I heard Winnie tell my mom.
Several years ago when Winnie was still in her teens, her older sister fell ill. Going in and out of the hospital became routine; no one ever really told Winnie what was wrong with her sister. Sadly, her sister passed on and as you can imagine, this was very difficult on her and the family. Several months after her sister’s passing, Winnie’s older brother was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He was so devastated about the news, he completely lost all hope that within a short time of finding out his status, he passed away, leaving behind a wife and kids. While eating her food slowly, Winnie continued with her story stating that when her older brother passed away, her younger brother who was the closest to him was so devastated at the death that a few months later, he passed away too. Can you imagine losing three siblings within a short period of time?
As I listened to Winnie’s story, I was deeply sad for her but you should see her when she tells this story; she says it with a smile on her face and when asked where she gets her strength from, all she says is “it’s only by the grace of God that you learn to live and take it one day at a time.”
Later on Winnie found out that her older sister was HIV positive. This is not shocking that the family was keeping her status quiet as most people do mainly due to shame and fear of being stigmatized against. Nowadays, as more and more people are getting educated about HIV/AIDS, they are more open to talking about it. Being HIV positive is not an end in itself, people continue living healthy, longer lives as long they take care of themselves.
Starting the foundation for Winnie was and still is a healing salve. She always says ‘if you are not infected, you are affected.” WM Foundation is there to advocate for vulnerable children and women especially those infected with HIV/AIDS by providing education and helping to raise funds for programs that work directly with these women and children (see pictures below). The mission is “to serve the needs of poor women and orphaned children by changing their bad attitudes and behaviors so that they realize their rights and responsibilities to maximize prevention of HIV-Aids; while achieving optimal treatment and care to mitigate the impact of HIV-Aids and provide infected children and women a pleasant healthy life, free of stigma and discrimination.”
WM Foundation also works to empower young men and women through WM Models by having them attend events such as The Mwape Peer Awards (where Winnie won the Rising Star Award last year) and showcase WM Foundation clothing designed by her. The organization also takes part in AIDS Walk that takes places in Central Park in New York City every year.
The foundation deals with a very sensitive issue facing our community today but it is vital that we all take part in the discussion and find out how we can all help each other in the battle against HIV/AIDS. The World Health Organization reports that in 2011 alone, there were 34 million people living with HIV. WM Foundation is there to support, educate, and empower everyone in our community. It's been 15 years since Winnie lost her sister and many other relatives along the way and I'm sure there are many of us that have lost loved ones to the disease too. Remember 'if you are not infected you are affected' too let's support those trying to make a difference, one person at a time.
PHOTO GALLERY(Pictures from Mwape Peer Awards 2012 and 2013, AIDS Walk 2012, Winnie's Trip to Zambia 2012)