On December 1 2011, Hope Through Health and our partner organization, Association Espoir pour Demain (AED-Lidaw), organized a candlelight vigil in Kara, Togo. The following account is provided by HTH and Peace Corps volunteer Stacie Knight.
"When I got close to the clinic I encountered the crowds of people surrounding the building and spilling out into the road. Dozens were already holding lit candles and the banner was unfurled. I was speechless. We planned for three meeting points across town that would converge at the market and continue onto the Congress Building. That meant that this mass of people was only a third of those who would be participating. As the banner holders started off, hundreds of people streamed behind them, singing, chanting, and holding their candles out proudly.
I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response of the community. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that we would get this many participants. Being swept up by the crowd, we walked through the streets of Kara, slowly growing in numbers as we progressed. The procession overtook entire streets in downtown Kara and traffic was forced to a halt. The spirit was festive and lively, but intermittently there were faces of quiet contemplation and remembrance.
As giddy as I was for such a successful event, I took time during the march to reflect on why we embarked on this journey in the first place. I thought of Bienvenu, a tiny 13 year old boy I had known my whole service who had recently died. Personally I marched for him and the others I have known that also lost their battle against AIDS.
During my preparations for the event, I had read that 2 million people die every year due to AIDS, and 30 million worldwide are infected. Those numbers are incomprehensible; but the idea that two million deaths could have been avoided, that Bienvenu’s death could have been prevented, made it all hit home. Two million is just a figure, but mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, and spouses had needlessly died. We were marching for them.
By the time all three groups merged upon reaching the Congress Building, our numbers were well above five thousand people. I was awe-struck at the sight. Candles lit up the night in every direction. I felt privileged just to witness such a sight.
I am happy to say that the World AIDS Day 2011 Candlelight Vigil in Kara was an overwhelming success. It wasn’t an event that people had to be coerced into helping organize or attend. It was something that people truly believed in and wanted to be a part of. It was truly inspiring to see the community of Kara come together. It was the proudest moment in my Peace Corps service thus far."