This year is AID for AIDS’ (AFA) 25th anniversary and together with Jesus Aguais, the founder and CEO of AFA, we hosted the heartfelt My Hero Gala under the magnificent whale at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. The purpose of the AID for AIDS, My Hero Gala, has always been to highlight individuals who have made a significant impact in improving the lives of people living with HIV. We have had the honor of bestowing the My Hero Award to scientists and doctors like Anthony Fauci, Dr. Bruce Walker, Julio Frenk, and Dr. Jose Esparza, to name just a few for their lifetime dedication to advancing HIV/AIDS research and policy. As well as artists, designers, and political figures who have used their voices to raise awareness, like Gael Garcia Bernal, Mario Testino, Narciso Rodriguez and the First Ladies of Panama and Colombia Vivian Torrijos and Lina Moreno de Uribe.
This year I had the privilege of giving the My Hero award to Ivan Duque, President of Colombia. He was recognized for the monumental task he undertook to help the millions of Venezuelan refugees, the “caminantes”, who have crossed the border into Colombia by foot in search of a better life.
Noticias Caracol media coverage of the My Hero Gala
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Cúcuta, on the Colombian border, to witness firsthand the devastating reality of the Venezuelan migration crisis. Jesus Aguais, the founder of AID for AIDS, organized this trip for us so that we could gain invaluable insights into this complex situation. During our three-day visit, we followed the road of migrants until we reached el Paramo de Berlin, an inhospitable segment of the journey at approx. 13,000 feet high and temperatures well below freezing. Along the road, we saw families with young children, young boys traveling alone, and older men walking for miles in flip-flops with nothing to keep them warm or dry. Some of the migrants stop in Colombia, but most walk all the way to Peru, Chile or Argentina.
President Duque’s effort to dignify the migrants by granting them temporary status so that they can join the workforce, put their kids in school, get medical attention and access the public health system is why we honored him on this special evening. We hope that other countries in Latin America will follow his example.
The My Hero corporate award was given to Globant for their work getting formula to new mothers living with HIV – a critical contribution in avoiding transmission of the virus to newborns. My friend and one of the founders, Guibert Englebienne of Globant, reached out to me to see how he could help the Venezuelan crisis. His interest surfaced after taking time to speak to the hundreds of Venezuelan refugee programmers he has hired in his offices across the region. Heartbroken by their stories, he worked with Jesus and very quickly was able to raise over US$260,000 to secure food for over 3000 malnourished babies in Venezuela.
This year, we created a new award – The Terry Riley Humanitarian Award for the Arts. Terry was not only a dear friend, but how I came to meet Jesus. Terry saw early on that Jesus was onto something big and supported him along the way as AID for AIDS was established. Today, only through the medicine-recycling program, AID for AIDS has repurposed over US$2M worth of medicine. Sadly, Terry passed away last year, and we created this award to honor his commitment to the cause in posterity. The award was presented to Bouchra Khalili by MoMA’s Glenn Lowry.
Congratulation Jesus, on 25 years of transformative work! You are the ultimate Hero of this story. Thank you for letting us be part of your journey. The evolution of AID for AIDS to Aid for Life is exciting, and is in itself a testament to your success in solving one problem and pivoting to the next.