About the Author: Charles A. Ray serves as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.
The U.S. government theme for World AIDS Day 2010 is "Building on Success." Despite the ever-present challenges, there have been some tremendous successes in the last five years of the HIV/AIDS battle in Africa. Some of these successes are now starting to filter down in the form of targeted efforts to educate, protect and assist specific groups. By reaching certain target groups in effective ways, we hope to double our successes. Therefore, here in Zimbabwe, we decided this year to focus on youth and created our own sub-theme: "Take control of your future, take control of your health, know your status."
My embassy in Harare works in close cooperation with the Government of Zimbabwe's Health Ministry and nongovernmental organizations. Together, we complement our strengths to help the young people of this country stay HIV free or have successful lives if they are HIV positive. In just a few short years, we have made great strides together in the fight against this deadly disease, and we are committed to continue to do so in order to build a better future for all young people.
This year in Zimbabwe, my embassy organized an ambitious World AIDS Day youth outreach program. Yesterday, on November 30, we sponsored a soccer tournament featuring the ARV Swallows, a team of HIV positive Zimbabwean women, and several "Goals for Girls" teams, supported by the U.S. Embassy and PEPFAR. The Swallows have been a double barreled success from their start in 2008. They are living proof that being HIV positive is not a death sentence, and they demonstrate this beautifully by being excellent soccer players. They won the Zimbabwean HIV women's soccer championship in 2009 and were featured in a Medicin sans Frontieres (MSF) documentary the same year.
Today, I joined a group of local celebrities and sports stars at a PEPFAR-supported clinic in Harare to encourage young people to get tested and to "know your status." As a group, the Zimbabwean Big Brother Africa runner-up, soccer players, musicians and I went through a regular testing and counseling session. Like the mini-bus driver, township girl and government executive, we learned about the virus, how it impacts lives and how one can live a long, successful life -- infected or not. I proudly told the gathered media that the test was quick, easy to do, and gives everyone who does it a greater degree of control over their health.
To cap off this critical week dedicated to HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe's Minister of Health and I will preside over the 10th Annual USAID Auxillia Chimusoro Awards for excellence in HIV/AIDS work and communications tomorrow. This annual event honors activism in the fight against AIDS. And on Friday, in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo, we are sponsoring a children's art exhibit showing the effects of living with AIDS or with someone who is infected.
While HIV-focused soccer games and medical testing with celebrities was not covered in the Ambassadorial Seminar -- or any other diplomatic training I have had in my career -- these types of events are among the most important things I do as the chief representative of President Obama in Zimbabwe. Anything focusing on this country's youth, especially regarding their health and well-being, helps to build the foundation for a brighter future for the entire country. And that is what the United States wants in Zimbabwe -- a brighter future for the entire country.