The Niwano Peace Foundation presented the twenty-sixth
Niwano Peace Prize to Canon Gideon Baguma Byamugisha,
an Anglican priest in Uganda. Rev. Byamugisha was honored for
his endeavors to uphold the dignity and human rights of people with
HIV/AIDS. The presentation took place on May 7 at the Foreign Correspondents'
Club of Japan in Tokyo. Because of the international swine flu alert,
Rev. Byamugisha, who is HIV-positive, did not attend the ceremony.
On his behalf, the Most Rev. Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, primate of the
Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan) accepted the prize.
Following are excerpts of the acceptance address that Rev. Byamugisha
had prepared for the presentation ceremony.
It is with great joy and humility that I do hereby acknowledge, accept, and receive the twenty-sixth Niwano Peace Prize. I would like to do so on behalf of all those HIV-positive "Ambassadors of Life and Peace" dedicated to and involved in the struggle to bring about a safer, healthier, more productive, more fulfilling, and more peace-filled world for all of us-irrespective of our age, gender, color, creed, or geographical location.
At first I did not believe the e-mail letter I received from the Niwano Peace Foundation secretary-general informing me that I would be the recipient of the prize for 2009. My first reaction to the letter was to think that I was being scammed by Internet con men and fraudsters who tell you that you have won lots of money from a lottery or from a rich dead donor, then trick you into sending them your personal contacts and bank details, and finally succeed in taking even the very little savings one has accumulated. I began knowing it was genuine when Mr. Tadashi Takatani, secretary-general of the Niwano Peace Foundation, visited us in October 2008 and brought with him a signed letter from the chairperson of the Niwano Peace Foundation.
As Professor Hans Kung acknowledged in his own acceptance speech in 2005: "There are dreams that never come true and on the other hand one can experience realities in life which one would never have dreamt of."1
Since then I have tried to read and learn a lot about the Niwano Peace Foundation. I am particularly pleased and encouraged to learn (both from my readings and from interactions with the Niwano Peace Foundation secretary-general) that the Niwano Peace Foundation exerts great energy in encouraging, supporting, and complementing interreligious cooperation in the cause of world peace.
From the part of the world where I live and work, this involves overcoming the following:
• Socioeconomic, cultural, educational, technological, spiritual, and political poverty
• Preventable and controllable infections, illnesses, and deaths
• Socioeconomic, cultural, educational, technological, religious, and political injustice, discrimination, marginalization, and conflicts
• Extreme vulnerability to life-threatening, life-reducing, life-taking, and life-wasting behaviors, decisions, practices, policies, programs, partnerships, resource-allocation regimes, and occurrences at the individual, family, local community, national, regional, and global level that form part of our daily spiritual struggle, devotion, cooperation, and reflection in search of holistic peace, health, and well-being
The HIV/AIDS pandemic (largely preventable, manageable, and controllable with good science, good self-governance, and good international relations) continues to wreak havoc on individuals, families, local communities, nations, and regions most vulnerable because of the lack of the following:
• Accurate information for self-protection and care
• Appropriate attitudes for appreciating various contexts of risk and vulnerability
• Appropriate skills and services for increased HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment, and impact mitigation
• Supportive socioeconomic, cultural, educational, technological, medical, spiritual, and political environments that make safe behaviors, practices, and happenings widely known, easy to adopt, popular, and routine (while making unsafe ones known, difficult to adopt, unpopular, and rare)
Indeed, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of today's leading humanitarian, cultural, religious, economic, educational, developmental, human-rights, health, security, technological, and self-governance challenges that will continue to test the strength of our attitudes, science, spirituality, religiosity, and morality as individuals, families, communities, and nations, and even as a global community. It will also test the strength of the economic, social, cultural, educational, medical, technological, spiritual, and political strategies, policies, and partnerships we have in place in the face of all the life-threatening, life-reducing, life-taking, and life-wasting infections, illnesses, and occurrences we are facing as global citizens.
The good news is that we have what it takes (as global citizens and global leaders) to halt, reverse, and eventually defeat HIV/AIDS in terms of knowledge, science, technology, values, and structures for international cooperation and action.
What is needed is to expand and multiply our "Citizens' Diplomacy"2 for what His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan calls "Mutually Assured Survival."3 We should never doubt that the action of thoughtful, dedicated, and committed individuals, groups, associations, and foundations like the Niwano Peace Foundation can make this world safer, healthier, and more peaceful. In fact, according to the American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: "It is the only thing that ever does."4
Mutually Assured Survival in the context of HIV/AIDS means that state, nonstate, and interstate Ambassadors of Life and Peace must work to put in place policies, plans, programs, personnel, partnerships, funding mechanisms, messages, and prayer patterns that accomplish the following:
• Accelerate the defeat of HIV/AIDS-related stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction, and misaction (SSDDIM)
• Promote and multiply SAVE:
Safe practices: A (abstinence from sexual activity) + B (being faithful to a single partner) + C (correct and consistent condom use) + PMTCT (Preventing mother-to-child transmission) + safe blood + safe injections, safe circumcision, and safe microbicides + vaccine development, and so on
Access: to treatment for OIs (opportunistic infections) and STIs (sexually transmitted infections), to PEP (postexposure prophylaxis) and ARVs (antiretrovirals), and to good nutrition
Voluntary, routine, and stigma-free HIV counseling and testing
Empowerment of children, youths, women, men, families, communities, and nations living with or vulnerable to HIV and AIDS (economically, socially, culturally, spiritually, educationally, technologically, and politically)
As HIV/AIDS-related infections, illnesses, and deaths continue to soar unacceptably in many countries and regions of Africa and beyond (even in the face of so many efforts, programs, and initiatives), some of us in the most vulnerable communities and nations of the world have come to realize that half measures do not effectively work against this deadly epidemic.
Limited, inaccurate, and stigmatizing approaches and messages that focus on the individual alone, without evoking equal responsibility and accountability at the family, local community, national, regional, and global level, are failing to save our children, youths, women, men, families, communities, and nations from the epidemic.
What is most urgently needed are creative partnerships (public and private, global and local) that are dedicated and committed to the defeat of HIV/AIDS-related SSDDIM and to the multiplication of SAVE at all levels and in all sectors of life.
The leadership and support of the faith leaders and faith communities in this two-pronged ministry will continue to be greatly needed, given our reach, our presence, our unique tradition of compassion, care, and "love for neighbor," and given our potential for sustainability over the long haul.
I thank you once again, dear friends, for this very great honor, and for the wonderful encouragement, fellowship, and hospitality that I and my team have experienced and will continue to treasure even beyond this great ceremony.
Together in partnership with other Ambassadors of Life and Peace, we will win the war against HIV and AIDS sooner than most of us anticipate, especially if we perfect our collective art, science, and will of "blaming each other less and supporting each other more" as individuals, families, communities, nations, regions, and continents of the global community.
1. Hans Kung, "22nd Niwano Peace Prize Commemorative Address," Buddhist-Christian Studies, vol. 26 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), pp. 203-8.
2. "Citizens' Diplomacy" is the concept that in a vibrant democracy the individual citizen or groups of citizens have the right-even the responsibility-to shape international relations and cooperation and outcomes on a given issue of critical importance. In the context of HIV/AIDS, the Ambassadors of Life and Peace are all of those people committed to building a safer, healthier, more fulfilling, and more peaceful world for all, irrespective of age, gender, creed, or geographical location. They are committed to mobilizing state, nonstate and interstate actions, policies, programs, funding regimes, messages, and prayers that can accomplish the following:
• Accelerate the defeat of HIV/AIDS-related SSDDIM
• Promote and multiply SAVE
• Bring about a world free from HIV, AIDS, and other life-reducing, life-threatening, life-taking, and life-wasting infections, illnesses, and occurrences
. His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, "25th Niwano Peace Prize Acceptance Address" (Tokyo, May 8, 2008) p. 2.
. Margaret Mead, quoted from the Coalition for Citizen Diplomacy Web site, http://www.coalitionforcitizendiplomacy.org/ about.html.
Canon Gideon Baguma Byamugisha, who was born in 1959, learned in 1991 that he was HIV-positive. He was the first African priest to declare publicly that he was HIV-positive, breaking one of the most important barriers in the struggle against HIV, that of stigma-induced silence. Rev. Byamugisha has helped to raise public awareness of the disease in a way that has brought distinction to religious and cultural communities in his own country, Uganda, across the African continent, and on a global level. He is the canon of two cathedrals, in Uganda and Zambia, and works through many other channels to fight injustice, with a special focus on children.
This article was originally published in the July-September 2009 issue of Dharma World.
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