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Sen. Barack Obama's Speech on World AIDS Day 2006

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Sen. Barack Obama's Speech on World AIDS Day 2006

Senator Barack Obama

"I've got two friends here, a Republican and a Democrat," declared conservative Pastor Rick Warren, influential author of runaway best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life," on World AIDS Day on December 1, 2006 at his 20,000 member Saddleback Church in Orange County, California.

"Why? Because you've got to have two wings to fly," Warren explained to his ruffled audience of 2,072 evangelical Christian pastors and leaders.

Later, grasping hands with two potential 2008 presidential candidates, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Pastor Warren led the group in prayer for sufferers of AIDS and HIV, and to stop the pandemic that's already killed 25 million people worldwide.

Both senators gave speeches at Warren's World AIDS Day conference. Sen. Brownback, a Christian conservative, was speaking to his political constituency. Sen. Obama, however, was treading on openly hostile territory.

The following is the text of Senator Obama's courageous, savvy speech.

Race Against Time - World AIDS Day Speech
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church
Saddleback Church

I want to start by saying how blessed I feel to be a part of today and how grateful I am for your church and your pastor, my friend Rick Warren.

Ever since Rick and Kay visited Africa to see the pain and suffering wrought by AIDS, the Warrens and this church have proved each day that faith is not just something you have, it's something you do.

Their decision to devote their time, their money, and their purpose-driven lives to the greatest health crisis in human history is not one that's always reported on the news or splashed across the front pages, but it is quietly becoming one of the most influential forces in the struggle against HIV and AIDS.

Power of Passion & Faith to Eradicate AIDS

The resources of governments may be vast, and the good works of philanthropists may be abundant, but we should never underestimate how powerful the passion of people of faith can be in eradicating this disease.

One of those passionate individuals is the man we just heard from - my friend and colleague, Sam Brownback. Now, Sam and I may not agree on every issue, but I could not be more impressed with his efforts on issues like AIDS, the crisis in the Congo, the genocide in Darfur and sexual trafficking - issues that touch some of the world's most vulnerable people. I am proud to work with him on many of these issues, and I'm proud to be by his side today.

AIDS in Africa

I took my own trip to Africa a few months ago. As I'm sure Rick and Kay would agree, it's an experience that stays with you for quite some time.

I visited an HIV/AIDS hospital in South Africa that was filled to capacity with people who walked hours - even days - just for the chance to seek help. I met courageous patients who refused to give up for themselves or their families. And I came across AIDS activists who meet resistance from their own government but keep on fighting anyway.

But of all that I heard, I encountered few stories as heartbreaking as the one recently told by Laurie Goering, a Chicago Tribune reporter based in Johannesburg who had covered our trip for her newspaper.

Three years ago, Laurie hired a woman named Hlengiwe Leocardia Mchunu as her nanny. Leo, as she is known, grew up as one of nine children in a small South African village.

All through her life, she worked hard to raise her two kids and save every last penny she earned, and by the time Leo was hired as Laurie's nanny, she had almost finished paying off the mortgage on her home. She had even hoped to use the extra money from her new job to open a refuge for local children who had been orphaned by AIDS.

Then one day, Leo received a phone call that her eldest brother had fallen ill. At first he told everyone it was diabetes, but later, in the hospital, admitted to the family it was AIDS. He died a few days later. His wife succumbed to the disease as well. And Leo took in their three children.

Six months later, Leo got another phone call. Her younger brother had also become sick with AIDS. She cared for him and nursed him as she did her first brother, but he soon died as well.

Leo's pregnant sister was next. And then another brother. And then another brother.

She paid for their caskets and their funerals. She took in their children and paid for their schooling. She ran out of money, and she borrowed what she could. She ran out again, and she borrowed even more.

And still, the phone calls continued. All across her tiny village, Leo watched more siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews test positive for HIV. She saw neighbors lose their families. She saw a grandmother house sixteen orphaned grandchildren under her roof. And she saw some children go hungry because there was no one to care for them at all.

40 Million Infected with HIV

You know, AIDS is a story often told by numbers. 40 million infected with HIV. Nearly 4.5 million this year alone. 12 million orphans in Africa. 8,000 deaths and 6,000 new infections every single day. In some places, 90% of those with HIV do not know they have it. And we just learned that AIDS is set to become the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide in the coming years.

They are staggering, these numbers, and they help us understand the magnitude of this pandemic. But when repeated by themselves, statistics can also numb - they can hide the individual stories and tragedies and hopes of the Leos who live the daily drama of this disease.

On this World AIDS day, these are the stories that the world needs to hear. They are the stories that touch our souls - and that call us to action.

I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like if Leo's family was my own. If I had to answer those phone calls - if I had to attend those funerals. All I know is that no matter how or why my family became sick, I would be called to care for them and comfort them and do what I could to help find a cure. I know every one of you would do the same if it were your family.

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