Mark Pointer, co-leader of the Norwich RESULTS group share his expereince of meeting Here I am Ambassador, Thokozile Phiri-Nkhomoa,  at the RESULTS International Conference in Washington DC.

The International Conference was a fascinating learning experience for me in so many ways.

Volunteering was a good way to get involved in the Conference, especially meeting Staff and Grassroots members from other countries.

The sessions were well organized and of good quality, like “Effective Advocacy Messages that Work in Challenging Environments” with former U.S Representative, Jim Walsh, Alliance to End Hunger Executive Director, Tony Hall and our own, Rt. Hon. Nick Herbert. It would have been good to have a few more outside speakers, just as we had at the UK National Conference – to challenge your thoughts and advocacy.

Mark and Here I amThen, to top it all, to be involved in going to ‘the Hill’ to lobby.  Ann Marie and I joined up with the Connecticut Grassroots Group to meet their members of Congress, Senators and their aides to discuss policy both nationally and globally.

But the sessions that talked to me more than any others, were the ones that involved the true advocates of poverty, who told their own powerful and unique stories of their lives.

One of those people was 28-year-old,Thokozile Phiri-Nkhomoa, from Malawi, who is an incredible woman.  I met her on the Saturday and got talking to her and she explained her story, about being a real-life advocate for the benefits of the Global Fund.

Thoko spoke about life growing up in Malwai, where 1.4 billion people have HIV coupled with increasing number of cases of Tuberculosis (TB).  Up to 2003, the Malawi government could not afford to buy anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for HIV treatment, or affordable medication for TB treatment.  During this period in Malawi there was a funeral nearly everyday – this included her own personal loss of her father, in 1997 to HIV & TB.  This had a big effect on her family, especially as her father was the main breadwinner in the family.  Her mother could not afford to look after Thoko and her brother and sister – they had no money for food and were chased out of their home by their landlord. This theme was replicated across the country – the unseen impact of HIV & TB infections.

Then in 2003 the Global Fund came to Malwai and funded medication for TB/HIV & Malaria. She spoke in no uncertain terms, saying that without the Global Fund thousands of people not just in Malawi but in other countries would not be alive today.  Unfortunately, by this time Thoko`s mother and her younger brother and sister had all been diagnosed with HIV.  But after receiving treatment her mother could now look after herself and her children.

During this time, Thoko, was diagnosed with TB – but because it was diagnosed quickly, she could receive medication and was cured of the disease. Sadly, in 2008 her younger brother died of a TB co-infection and then in 2011 her mother died too – but Thoko still wants to act as a voice for the voiceless and let the world know about how the Global Fund has and can make a difference to peoples’ lives.

Thoko is currently a TB-HIV advocate, who has been active nationally, for the Malwai Interfaith Aids Association and internationally, as a Here I Am Campaign Ambassador.