“It’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you react to it.” These words hit me hard like a gentle but firm punch in the gut. Of all the information Founder and CEO of Rotarians for Family Health and AIDS Prevention Marion Bunch shared with me in less than 20 minutes, these words impacted me the most. They’re words from a woman who has gone through the nightmare of losing a child to a disease that was still misunderstood at the time.
Marion lost her son to AIDS in 1994. A year after his passing, better medication for the virus was produced, and more patients began managing their HIV, living longer, and thriving with the disease. HIV was becoming less of a death sentence and more of a condition.
Nevertheless, Marion had lost her only son, and worse yet, no one wanted to talk to her about it.
“I was lonely,” Marion said. We bonded over how this virus can isolate a person from friends and family: I was isolated as a scared expecting mommy and she as a mourning mother. “No one talked about it,” she explained. “They showed up to the funeral. They showed to the church. But no one spoke about why my son died. No one wanted to talk about HIV.”
She spent the next few years grieving her son’s death until one day she felt a poke. She felt as if someone was poking her and telling her to do something about it!
“I know it was Jerry telling me that,” she said. “So I got up and got to work.”
Marion began speaking to teens and young adults about sexual education in 1997. She enjoyed sharing her story and connecting with young folks, yet she still felt an urge to do more. It was during a trip to Africa that Marion realized that this was where she needed to be. “I was shocked at the doors that opened to me while I was there,” she said reminiscing about her first time travelling to the region.
Eventually, her speaking engagements led her to unite with The Rotary Club, and she formed Rotarians for Family Health & AIDS Prevention, Inc. (RFHA). Over the last 11 years, the work RFHA has done is astounding. The organization screens for a variety of diseases including HIV, tuberculosis, diabetes, cancer and more, as well as provides lifelong immunizations for the children. Tens of thousands of families in Africa have been impacted by this organization and Marion’s passion. In February of 2016, RFHA will even take their good work over to India.
RFHA will be in Madhya Pradesh, India Feb. 19 through the 21st providing the same type of tests and immunizations they’ve done in Africa to approximately 75,000 people. This will be the first year RFHA will have their “Rotary Family Health Days” in India, so there is room to grow and work out any kinks. To some75,000 people is a daunting task, but it isn’t anything RFHA isn’t used to. Marion expects the program to grow each year In India as it has in Africa since it’s start in 2011.
It’s now been over 20 years since her son Jerry has passed. And although no one would have blamed her for leading a quiet private life after such a loss, it is her bold reaction to her grief that has given life to many others.
Nothing is stronger than a mother’s love.
For more information on RFHA, including how to donate to the great cause, visit their website at www.rffa.org