Why the Pediatric AIDS Coalition Matters
I recently read “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the first few chapters, I read about how change — true, pervasive change in the world — begins with a single person or group of people. These bouts of change start as trends, are later recognized by others, and ultimately take flight. Whether they gain support or face opposition, stir controversy or inspire passion, these changes allow for groups of people to unite and advocate for causes, ideas, and populations in which they believe with hope for changing the world. As I continued to read, Gladwell described how people can evoke change and ultimately reach a point where their ideas are ubiquitously recognized. As mentioned in the title, Gladwell explains this as the tipping point, “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Immediately upon hearing this theory, one specific group of people came to mind — the Pediatric AIDS Coalition (PAC) at UCLA. This is a student-run organization that works to raise funds and awareness to end pediatric HIV/AIDS and ultimately reach a stigma-free, AIDS-free society. This article is about how the powerful mission and action of these positive, empathetic college students perfectly emulate what it means to fight for what is just and how to change the world for the better. In Gladwell’s terms, PAC is hoping to reach a tipping point in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“The paradox of the epidemic…in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”
First, I must clarify the paradox of PAC: we are fighting to end an epidemic by creating a new one. On one hand we are trying to reach the end of the AIDS epidemic by helping to reduce the number of children born with HIV each day to zero. On the other hand, we are inspiring a new epidemic of advocacy and truth by fostering a stigma-free society. It seems like a big job for some college students, however, the progress this organization has made is both tangible and meaningful. The small, strategic, and meticulous steps PAC takes to uphold its mission not only allow for progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but also inspire thousands of students each year to get behind this cause. We help people understand and connect with the fight against HIV/AIDS through our own “many small movements.” From free HIV screenings, to on-campus showings of HIV-related films and artwork, PAC tries to inform its members and supporters. We try to avoid “blind support” of the cause by holding events on campus where we educate fellow students on the science of the illness and the sociopolitical aspects of HIV happening around the world. We utilize direct outreach by putting on mentorship events and retreats for children and teens directly or indirectly affected by HIV/AIDS. By providing support, friendship, and guidance, we make it clear that they are not alone and give them a safe space to tell their story and unite with others in similar situations. By fundraising, we are helping to push the field of HIV/AIDS medicine and research forward, hoping to develop life-saving treatments for those affected by the illness and to eventually approach a cure.
“If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior…you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.”
PAC transcends its title of an on-campus organization. It is a community that promotes change, understanding, and unity, becoming a safe space and an outlet for those directly or indirectly affected by HIV/AIDS. The goal is to extend this culture of openness and advocacy to the rest of campus, and eventually the world. PAC personifies “practice what you preach.” Our goals are to educate the public on HIV/AIDS, fight stigma, and stand as HIV/AIDS advocates. This means we must be knowledgeable about the illness itself, address misconceptions and provide factual information, and gain perspective on what it is like to be infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. In order to do so, our weekly meetings consist of “Cause Education” presentations where we learn about the history of HIV/AIDS, new scientific and technological advancements in the fight against the illness, notable figures in HIV/AIDS advocacy, HIV policy around the world, basic science behind the illness, the timeline of the epidemic, and more. We have speakers from our main beneficiaries, such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Project Kindle, and the UCLA AIDS Institute come speak to us, informing us on what our fundraising has helped them accomplish and how important our work for this cause is. We are fortunate enough to have brave individuals — children, teens, and parents — who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS share their story with us. These stories allow us to connect deeply to the cause and gain perspective on what it means to face real struggle; naturally, this motivates us to uphold and perpetuate our fight. We hear about their physical and emotional struggles with the illness and how society’s perspective of the illness is largely based off of misinformation. We are inspired by their unparalleled strength and tenacity to not only physically fight the virus, but to also become advocates themselves and to use their stories to educate others and make the world a more understanding place.
“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push — in just the right place — it can be tipped.”
In the Pediatric AIDS Coalition, we push. We strive to reach the tipping point that will finally allow us to live in a stigma-free society and reach an AIDS-free generation. PAC puts on Dance Marathon, a twenty-six hour event where thousands of students have and will continue to take a literal stand in the fight against Pediatric HIV/AIDS. In 2016, we raised about $450,000. Since PAC’s creation fifteen years ago, we have raised $5 million dollars for HIV treatment, research, and prevention. Additionally, when PAC was started in 2002, the number of babies born with HIV each day was at 1500. Now, in 2017, the number has dropped to 400. Clearly, immense progress has been made thanks to organizations like PAC and the universal fight against HIV/AIDS, but evidently, there is still a long way to go. However, this goes to show how even just one college organization like PAC can play such a vital role in creating an epidemic of change. In other words, one person or one group of people can truly make a difference.
Change is waiting to happen; it is waiting to be told when to occur and what direction to go in. However, change is an active process, it requires effort, dedication, and heart; we need people to stand up and decide to be the ones to make it happen. The possibility of an AIDS-free generation is teetering atop the tipping point of the fight against HIV/AIDS, and PAC is fighting and dancing its way to that tipping point to push it over.
Join us in our fight by registering for Dance Marathon, happening this weekend (April 8th-9th), or by signing up to morale/donate at http://www.up4thefight.org/ucla2017.
By Emily Bochner, Cause Education Committee