Twenty-year-old Katherine Schwarzenegger, recently returned from a two-week listening and learning tour of Africa with the ONE organization, traveling to Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique and Kenya. In a special series, Katherine will be introducing us to amazing women from around the globe. Her story begins in Africa.
On a very hot day in the beautiful city of Accra, Ghana, I didn’t realize that I was about to have one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
After an hour car ride from the city of Accra, I arrived with members of the ONE organization at Tema Hospital, which is a hospital that ONE's (RED) campaign has helped to finance. The hospital didn’t look much like a hospital at all and the scattered plantation style buildings seemed pretty lifeless. We all piled out of the car and walked over to what turned out to be the pediatric wing. When I walked in, I saw several mothers all sitting down staring at us, their eyes filled with hope and curiosity. I then sat down next to a mother who had her 18 month old daughter on her lap. We began talking to the women, with the help of a translator. One woman that I was particularly intrigued by, told me she had first traveled to Tema Hospital after hearing about it from various people in her village. She heard that people were coming to be tested for HIV/AIDS and getting their babies tested as well. This was not an easy decision for her because of the many rumors about getting tested for AIDS. Women are told that, by getting tested, their husbands will leave them, their babies will be hurt or killed, and they will get AIDS or another deadly disease in the process. When women hear that, why would they want to get tested?
This woman was brave though -- I could tell that the minute I looked her into her eyes. I could feel that she had been through a lot. She told me that she had come to Tema Hospital when she was pregnant with the baby girl who was now patiently sitting on her lap. At that point, she already had three kids and never had the strength to come here and get tested for fear that she would be HIV positive, her world would come to an end and she’d be left hopeless.
But she did come to Tema Hospital as a pregnant woman with her three children. They all got tested. She was thrilled when she found out that her two oldest kids were HIV negative, but saddened when she found out her third child, her son, was HIV positive, as was she. Then she was quickly told that this there was hope for her, her son and her baby on the way. The doctor gave her and her son a pill prescription for six months. And this pill was a life-saver. A few months later, she delivered a healthy and HIV negative baby girl.
Had this woman not been tested and not been given the pill, her son, her baby daughter, and she herself would most likely not have survived. How did this medication become available to her? Through money that the (RED) campaign has raised.
Sitting and talking with this woman and her baby was a surreal experience for me. I felt like I was literally staring at the most amazing success story and the baby, a beautiful miracle.
I’m one of those people who sees a product where the profits go to charity, and immediately buys it as a sort of “feel good purchase.” This is exactly what I had done with all of the (RED) products. Not only was my uncle always harassing me to support his work with (RED), but I knew it was going to a good cause. Little did I know, the $40 sweatshirts and t-shirts I was buying were literally saving lives. Because of everyday people buying (RED) products, these women in Ghana at the Tema Hospital are able to take a pill that keeps them alive so they can live a long and prosperous life as mothers, wives, friends, sisters, and survivors.
So the next time you step into Starbucks, GAP, or the Apple Store, check out the (RED) products and buy one knowing your money changes lives! You can be the person that provides the next woman at the Tema Hospital, with a pill that will keep her and her baby alive.
Katherine Schwarzenegger is a sophomore at the University of Southern California and is majoring in communications with a minor in gender studies. She created VIDA Bags last fall to promote the awareness of maternal mortality and is currently working on a book to be released in the fall on body image. You can follow Katherine Schwarzenegger on Twitter @KSchwarzenegger.