PART II: What a Real Superhero Looks Like

 

The first time I met a real superhero was when I was traveling through South Africa. I sat and ate a sandwich with an exhausted, overwhelmed woman who was the sole community health worker in a community made up of hundreds of people wrestling with HIV or dying from AIDS. She spent her days walking from house to hut, making sure people with access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were taking them regularly. She also brought fruit and vegetables to the homes of people who needed better nutrition. She was also a counselor who became a confidante to the grieving and the suffering as they shared their struggles, and hopes, and confessions with her. Her name was Gertrude.

It was an unassuming superhero name. Her superpowers were compassion, love, courage, comfort, patience, kindness, and hope. There was no uniform, no cape, nothing to protect her when she stepped between the bullets of stigma aimed at the people in the community where she served.

 
 
 
 

Since Blood:Water’s beginning, I have come in contact with hundreds of real heroes. They are the well-worn, humble, overworked, under-appreciated people who do the hard stuff of pouring themselves out as community health workers, support group leaders, nutrition specialists, researchers, HIV testers, and counselors.

You might not know of their feats of strength and courage or of their ability to breathe life back into a dying village. You may not hear about their moments of glory when an HIV-positive mother gives birth to a child free of HIV. But they are the ones who inspire us, and they are the ones you support through your heroic generosity.  

The lesson I learned from first watching superhero cartoons on television and then spending time with real heroes is that there is no difference between superheroes and super-villains aside from the answer to the question, “Is the use of superpower meant to benefit the person using it or the people around them?”

This is the point I missed as a child. I wanted powers to serve me. I naively wanted to be a super-villain. To be a superhero, I had to use my powers for the well-being of others. This is why being generous with money, and time, and a voice can be heroic. And it is why we champion our hard-working partners in Africa who affirm dignity in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS every day.