ngolives

 

 

PRINCESS ASIE OCANSEY: CALLED TO SAVE A MILLION LIVES!

People always ask me how I became involved in my work as an HIV/AIDS activist, so I would like to share my story with you.

First, let me honestly declare that I was very much against anything HIV/AIDS. I did not want to know anything about it, nor hear about it. I felt very strongly that as an Engineer, I should have nothing to do with it, and it was the problem of doctors. Also, I felt, very wrongly, that only prostitutes had to worry about it. I had a very high level stigma even against the subject of HIV/AIDS itself, let alone people living with AIDS.

Enter God!

My dear friend, action Movie Star, Mr. Steven Seagal always used to ask me what I was doing about the AIDS pandemic in Africa. I would always tell him I was not a doctor and that my area was technology and education. He would insist that he would work with me to help African children with HIV/AIDS. I would nod and change the discussion.

Then one day, in January 2000, I had a wonderful meeting with Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical, a division of Johnson and Johnson, about doing some product endorsements for them. They said they would have further meetings and send me their final decision.

I was expecting to hear from Johnson and Johnson within a week or so, but nothing happened.

I came to Hollywood in February 2000 while I was staying at the Celebrity Center International, I had this dream:

I walked into a casino, it seemed like Atlantic City. It had many, many gambling machines and everyone was busy gambling. I turned around and walked out. While going away, I heard a very deep male voice say “ Princess, where are you going?”

“I am going home,” I said.

“Why?” He asked.

“Because I don’t gamble,” I said.

Then he said: “Oh, you don’t gamble….well turn around!”

When I turned around I saw millions of people standing behind me.

Then he said: “Do you see all these people standing behind you?”

Very intimidated by this time, I said yes, very quietly and with confusion written all over my face.

He continued:

“Well, they are ALL going to die because you refuse to speak about HIV/AIDS!”

I opened my eyes widely and turned around again to look at the millions of people who were going to die because of MY silence. I just could not stand it!

He continued:

“You have influence, you know people, you can help them and you can get them the help they need, and yet you constantly refuse to speak about HIV/AIDS, so they are ALL going to DIE!”

Then he held up a playing card with the head of queens and said:

“By the way, you say you don’t gamble, well, you are gambling with these people’s lives! Stop gambling with their lives! Stop Gambling with their lives! Stop gambling with their lives!

With the third one, I woke up to find I had been dreaming. It was about 3:00 am and the room felt very heavy. It seemed as if the whole thing happened in the room. I could not sleep. I called my mom and told her and she said it did not seem like an ordinary dream.

The whole day I kept hearing “Stop Gambling with their lives!” ringing in my ears.

I told Steven Seagal about the dream, and he said it was the voice of God. I did not say anything else.

But later that evening, a fax was brought to room which completely threw me!

The offer letter had come in from Ortho McNeil. Except, it read something like this:

“After all our discussions, we have decided to hold off on the product endorsements at this time, and rather provide a full sponsorship for you to attend the National Medical Association Annual Convention and address the OBGYN section about “Women and HIV/AIDS in Ghana”. I just about passed out!

Me???????


How did this HIV/AIDS thing come UP???? We NEVER discussed it in the meeting, so how and WHY is this following me around??? The bad part was I did not know ANYTHING about HIV/AIDS and the even worst part was I did not know the difference between HIV and AIDS and quite frankly, until then was not interested in knowing!

I just knew then, that God was up to something. I called my mother and she said, this sounds like the story of Jonah and the whale in the bible. She said, if you don’t do this, you might just get swallowed by a big whale!! I got the message loud and clear.

Okay, this was now February 2000. The conference was August 2000. I had six months to become expert enough to go and stand before top medical doctors and tell them about my “expertise” on women and AIDS in Ghana!

I came back to Ghana and started at zero, literally. I went to see our family doctor, Dr. Deborah Cubagee to see what she could tell me about “Women and HIV/AIDS in Ghana”. This was on a Friday. After telling her my experience, she said:

“What a coincidence! I am giving a talk on HIV/AIDS at the Presbyterian Church at Community One in Tema tomorrow, so come along!”

This church is located on the Greenwich meridian, longitude zero and is the church in which I was baptized, but had never attended since my childhood as my mother, a Methodist took us all to her church. Just too many strange things were happening. I felt like I was part of some big chess game.

The next day, after hearing my first lecture on HIV/AIDS, I was very embarrassed for all the years I had said it was none of my business. I asked God to forgive me for my ignorance and made a vow just then to use my life and all I have to bring awareness to the plight of people with AIDS, do what I could to help and to mobilize others to help too.

So now, it was time to prepare for the big day in Washington DC. NMA convention is attended by over 25,000 medical doctors.

I was very blessed when my best friend, Mrs. Maame Hajar and her family decided to come with me to DC to support me during this time. God bless Maame, there is just no one like her!

The night before, I started finishing up my speech. From 9pm to 7:30am, I had not found a speech I was comfortable with. I was to be behind the podium at 8:15. I would finish one speech and throw it out, finish another and throw it out. This went on for 10 hours straight and we could not sleep!


Then finally, by we managed to get to the podium at 8:20 am.

I was very nervous. In fact, I do quite a bit of speaking engagements and I am usually not nervous. Up until this day, I have never been this nervous in my entire life

So, here I was behind the podium facing these medical doctors holding my speech. As I started to speak, my hands were shaking and my mouth was shaking. I was not my warm self. I was not the person in that body…..I just could not handle it anymore….suddenly something overcame me. I threw my speech down and stepped out from behind the podium, and walked straight to the front to face the audience.

The whole room was very quiet. I was quiet for a while….you could hear a pin drop…total silence and suspense filled the air.

Then I spoke. I told them the absolute truth.

“I am very nervous,” I said. “ I have never been this nervous, my entire life”. I had to throw my speech away, because I am too nervous to read it.” This is the last place in the world I want to be. I really don’t want to be here, but I am here today because GOD sent me to you. So at this time I am just going to trust Him to tell me what to say to you.”

I spoke to them from my heart…or better still I know God spoke through me that day. I am not sure exactly what I said, but the long and short of it was that my people are dying of HIV/AIDS, we need doctors we need you…please come and help us so we can stop the death toll. I made an urgent call to a mass action against HIV/AIDS I Africa.

At the end of my short speech…..all the doctors stood up and there was a standing ovation. Over 200 doctors responded to the call by coming to sign up to come to Africa to help. In that group was Nia Banks, the then Chairperson of the Student National Medical Association, the student arm of the NMA.

Nia knew about our technology center from Patrick Hines, (the ex chairperson of the SNMA) whom Isaac Hayes and I had met in Ghana when he was visiting to attend a Sickle Cell Conference. He had wanted an autograph for his mother. After giving him the autograph and learning about him, we invited him to the village, where Isaac had been made the Chief for Development, under the Royal Name, Nene Katey Ocansey I, by my now late Dad, Kingmaker of Ada.

So Nia and Patrick discussed further with the SNMA and we started discussions on putting together a medical mission to Ghana. I named the program “Save a Million Lives” because of the millions of people I had seen standing behind me in my call.

The first mission brought down 40 medical students and medical doctors and nurses from the SNMA, NMA as well as 23 young media students age 16-18 from New Orleans. The team was led by Patrick Hines, Nadine Jackson and Aima Ahonkai.


It was a very successful trip. The night before their two-week mission ended, the SNMA made a commitment to go beyond the originally intended two-year program until HIV/AIDS was well understood in the community. Indeed the program ran for five years!

In its fifth year, we were invited to the White House by James Towey, head of the Faith Based and Community Initiatives arm of the White House, and later by Senator Bill Frist, the only Medical Doctor in the Senate to discuss ways we could be assisted with Save a Million Lives.

Save a Million Lives had tremendous impact on the community, the nation and the world.
It had seven main components:

1. Clinical work – treating, over the five year period, close to 100,000 people from beyond our community who heard about the program on TV or radio. Babies as well as adults could count on the one time in the year they could have medical attention. Many people can go from birth to death in our rural communities never having been touched once by a doctor. With this, the SNMA provided over $100,000 worth of free medications over the years.

2. Community Health Education – Community members were trained to build capacity as our internal warriors against HIV/AIDS. They continued with all-year outreach work after the SNMA were gone.

3. Capacity Building of Community Nurses – Community nurses were trained on HIV/AIDS care.

4. Community Debates/Drama and Training – We used this format instead of seminars to disseminate information on HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, treatment and care.

5. Outreach – As transportation is very expensive for many rural members, we went to treat them under the trees or at home and did many home visits for people living with AIDS.

6. Orphan Support – We raise funds to care for children affected or infected with HIV/AIDS. This program, now called "Angles of Hope", has expanded greatly due to my love for children. We have children who are needy and handicapped as part of this program now.

7. Monitoring and Evaluation - We monitor and evaluate all the programs to improve them continually for the following years' program.

Each year, we do a video recording of the program to use as national training tools and to make them available for others to use as training for HIV/AIDS Work.

This proved to have great impact. We became the first organization to put a face to HIV/AIDS in a documentary in Ghana working in collaboration with the first lady of Ghana. The work was the first to win a documentary award during the Ghana Music Awards. In the UK, Save a Million Lives was formed in Birmingham by my adopted brother, Mr. Andy Baily (Kabutey Ocansey) and wife Doreen (Maku) Baily. Again, Save a Million Lives won the GPA International Awards in the UK.

In 2003, I was inspired by one of Ghana’s top musicians, Shasha Marley, to write the Save a Million Lives song. Shasha made a great song, which we later brought to Isaac and the two did a beautiful collaboration remix, the new “Save a Million Lives” song to be launched by Isaac Hayes on his next album.

The journey to Save a Million Lives is by no means over. As the music says: If each one will reach one and teach one, we will save a million lives from HIV/AIDS!

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