By Elizabeth Baldwin, Analyst/Activity Manager for the Office of HIV/AIDS

Earlier this year, I attended two meetings in Johannesburg and Kampala to celebrate the end of the HIV/AIDS New Partners Initiative (NPI) – an interagency President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program totaling $200 million and spanning Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Helping build capacity among 55 prime partners and over 200 sub-partners in 14 countries, NPI – in its five years of existence – has strengthened and leveled the playing field for many organizations, building their capacities to implement HIV/AIDS care and support programs for those in communities hardest hit by the epidemic.

Thanks to NPI, grantees have provided nearly 1 million people with counseling and testing and prevention of mother-to-child transmission services; provided several million people with behavior change and prevention outreach; and reached over 340,000 children affected by HIV/AIDS.

The two meetings provided a remarkable opportunity to bring all of the partners together, to celebrate their incredible successes and to create a platform where they could share their unique stories and lessons learned under the Initiative.

Despite marking the end of the project, the tone and energy of the meetings were overwhelmingly celebratory. In both cities, the meetings kicked-off with exuberant performances by local cultural groups: the Mlisada Dance Troupein Uganda and the Arekopaneng Cultural Group in South Africa, which were preceded by opening remarks by USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The conference plenaries featured powerful key note addresses from Dr. Kelvin Storey, the Executive Director of the Regional AIDS Training Network in Kampala, and Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Johannesburg.

Dr. Storey, an expert in economic and social policy, gave a personable and compelling speech – speaking directly to the partners and urging them to take forward the tools and ideas developed under NPI. Equally thought-provoking, Justice Cameron spoke courageously about stigma and what it means to be an HIV-positive man living in South Africa.

Throughout the two days, partners exchanged best practices and lessons learned through informal breakout sessions and covered a range of topics such as resource mobilization, country ownership, and community partnerships.

Presentations led by NPI Partners generated lively dialogue as participants were eager to exchange stories and learn how others have made successful transitions. Discussions highlighted how NPI helped partners to grow and build organizational capacity. As a result, many grantees have secured other funding to continue their work.

During a lunch break in Kampala, I sat next to Daniel Ogola, the Executive Director of the Matibabu Foundation, an indigenous organization based in Western Kenya. Dan told me his inspiring story of growing up in poverty and wanting to better his community.

Through a tremendous amount of ambition, hard work and support along the way Dan founded Matibabu Foundation in 2006, which has brought affordable, quality health care to his community. He beamed while talking about opening the community’s first hospital – a big feat for a man who started with very little. In 2008, Matibabu received the PEPFAR/NPI award, which has helped the Foundation expand its reach and the quality of care it brings to the community.

While Dan and Matibabu’s stories are unique, in many ways they hit close to home and are shared by other NPI partners. The Initiative has not just been about teaching partners how to expand and strengthen their HIV/AIDS services – it has also emboldened their cause and empowered them by giving them a seat at the table. This was the overarching theme that came through loud and clear in both Kampala and Johannesburg.