I am honored to stand here today with Nelson Mandela – one the greatest freedom fighters of our time. His life and his example send forth a thundering and enduring message – a clarion call to action in pursuit of justice.
Being in the new South Africa is always an inspiration and a constant reminder of the power of perseverance and of possibility. But today in South Africa and elsewhere, there is a new oppressor, a new enemy of freedom and progress – and that enemy is AIDS.
It has been said that when we look into the eyes of a child, we can see the whole of the universe. And my friends, today, the eyes of our children reveal a world devastated by AIDS.
As this relentless pandemic rages on, it is increasingly children and families that are caught in the crossfire.
- Each and every day, 1,800 babies are born with HIV;
- Each and every day, more than 6,000 teenagers become infected; and
- Each and every day, thousands of children are orphaned by AIDS.
AIDS is leaving an entire generation in jeopardy – shattering the dreams and stealing the futures of our most precious resource – our children.
But as we prepare to close this important conference and return to our work – let us remember that this crisis is not about numbers but about names – not about facts but about faces and families – and not only about tragedy but about the triumph of the human spirit.
While it is true that the lives of millions – perhaps hundreds of millions hang in the balance – we cannot allow ourselves to be daunted by the gravity of the challenge that lies before us.
The pages of history are graced with extraordinary examples of how – in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds – individuals, families, and communities have dared to turn the tide. Time and again we have borne witness to what can be accomplished by those who have refused to give up or to give in.
Today, we as a global family, are once again called to take a stand for what is right – and to seize this opportunity to empower women, to protect children, and to support families and communities living in a world with AIDS.
As I have traveled throughout South Africa, I have met countless spirited and selfless warriors on the frontlines of the battle against AIDS. In community after community I have seen those with nothing bringing help and hope to those who have less. The new South Africa is blessed with boundless skill and talent – courage and commitment. What South Africa needs is real partners willing to fiercely pursue a shared vision.
It is for this reason that I am so proud that the US government is joining forces with the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
Together, we can support creative projects which enable families to help themselves and their children.
Together, we can push past the denial or hopelessness of AIDS – toward community mobilization and constructive action.
And together, we can build from this tragedy a foundation for hope, a legacy of compassion, and a real partnership forged by solidarity in this shared struggle.
If we do, our grandchildren's children can look back and talk with pride of a great people who found courage amidst uncertainty, and who in difficult times – continued to march toward the light. Then and only then, in the eyes of our children will shine the whole of the universe – a world that together fought AIDS – and won.