Numbers can be daunting.
400 Babies are born HIV-positive each day. 36.7 million people are currently living with HIV. Before Dance Marathon, each dancer pledges to raise $260. We eat at least 6 meals during Dance Marathon. Our feet start aching at hour 12. We see 100s of moralers running through the event. Finally, we dance for 26 hours and we raised $317, 599. But what does this all mean?
At this year’s Dance Marathon, Sam McKinnon, the President of the Pediatric AIDS Coalition (PAC), stated in his opening remarks,“Just by dancing, you’re providing countless mothers and children with the necessary medicine to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV.” When we start putting faces, names, and stories to these mothers and children, we take a bigger step in the direction of reducing stigma and raising awareness. At about hour fourteen, a little more than halfway through Dance Marathon, numerous ambassadors from Camp Kindle stood on stage and told their stories. These kids are all either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS; they are just a few of the children we fight for.
Each ambassador exhibits a tremendous about of strength by standing in front of a crowd and sharing extremely intimate details of their lives. This is my fourth Dance Marathon and my third year on the Pediatric AIDS Coalition. Since my freshman year, the number of babies born with HIV each day has been reduced from 700 to 400. Once again, these numbers are incredibly important, but they can be hard to fully comprehend. My first year at Dance Marathon, one Camp Kindle Ambassador had a difficult time telling her story. She broke down, and chose to not tell it on stage. This year, two years later, she was not afraid; she spoke out about being bullied due to her HIV status and the difficulties she has faced as only a thirteen-year-old girl. Each of these stories is unique, but Dance Marathon is a space where they all can come together and feel accepted and loved. The ambassadors have said that sharing their stories is invigorating and empowering. Their strength is just as inspiring to us.
This year, our Cause Education committee was able to secure a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to host at Dance Marathon. The AIDS Quilt is a powerful reminder of lives that have been lost due to the AIDS epidemic. There are more than 48,000 panels honoring friends and family members. The portion we hosted included a panel memorializing Elizabeth Glaser, the founder of PAC’s main beneficiary: Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. When Jake Glaser, her son who is also HIV-positive, arrived to Dance Marathon, he was taken aback as he did not know that we would be receiving this very special portion. Watching him take pictures in front of his mother’s quilt square was an incredibly palpable moment. Although his mother died from an AIDS related illness in 1994 and despite being HIV+ himself, due to modern medication and research, Jake Glaser is an extremely healthy young man.
Using these experiences, these moments from the event, we are able to go back to the numbers and connect the faces to our ambassadors, Jake Glaser, and others to provide a greater meaning. This year, we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so that mothers and children can have the necessary medication to lead happy and normal lives. It only tales $19 to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Each year, we organize and participate in Dance Marathon in order to raise money, to provide these kinds of resources, but we also do Dance Marathon to provide a space for those who are unfortunately infected or affected. We do Dance Marathon to reduce stigma and disseminate accurate knowledge about Pediatric HIV/AIDS.
Making a difference does not stop when we walk away from Pauley Pavilion. We are all advocates and agents of change for the rest of our lives. The AIDS epidemic is very much not over and very much still real. As we always say:
“When there’s a cure, we’ll dance for joy. Until then, we dance for life.”
Until next year.
The Pediatric AIDS Coalition
Written by Emily Faro