Remarks – 2016 Embassy Nassau Woman of Courage Award Ceremony

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

It is a pleasure to welcome you to Liberty Overlook as we celebrate International Women’s Day today, and Women’s History Month the entire month of March.  I want to extend a particularly special welcome to our friend and guest of honor, Ms. Marva Jervis, and her family.

The U.S. Department of State created the Woman of Courage Award in 2007 to honor women exemplifying leadership and courage.  Each year, U.S. embassies around the world celebrate exceptional women who are changing their countries and their communities for the better.  These women show us what is possible when people stand up for the rights and freedoms of not just themselves, but also for those around them.  The particular circumstances of these women differ, but they are linked by their devotion and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress.

Today, March 8, is a particularly special day, as it marks the 105th observance of International Women’s Day.  In its early years, International Women’s Day was an occasion to honor the women’s rights movement and those who worked for the right of women to vote, to hold public office, and for an end to workplace discrimination.

Today, it is a day to pause and reflect on how far we have come, but also to recognize how far we still have to go to achieve justice and equality for all.  Gender-based violence, underrepresentation in the workforce and in political and public life, and inequity in the ability to confer nationality to a child or spouse are just a few of the areas where more work needs to be done to ensure today’s girls have an even brighter future.

Many passionate Bahamians have dedicated themselves to service and helped lay the foundation for tomorrow’s women. Some of these people whom the U.S. Embassy has honored previously are:

  • Ms. Sheila Culmer, recognized for a lifetime of advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities;
  • Ms. Andrea Archer, for educating and helping teenage mothers;
  • Ms. A. Missouri Sherman-Peter; for her long and exemplary career in the Bahamian foreign and civil service;
  • the Honorable Janet Bostwick, for her role in the women’s labor movement;
  • Dr. Sandra Dean Patterson, for her work at The Crisis Centre; and
  • Ms. Rosa Mae Bain, for her work with HIV/AIDS research.

Please join me in a round of applause for these women and all they have done for their communities.

It is now time to add a new Woman of Courage to our list, Mrs. Marva Jervis.

Marva has been a strong advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS for over 30 years, improving lives and giving hope to hundreds of people.  If you go to almost any HIV/AIDS-related event in The Bahamas, you can bet that Marva will be there.  Everyone knows her; everyone loves her, but she is rarely on the podium or in the spotlight.  Instead, Marva is usually found at the back of the room, quietly encouraging a struggling HIV patient to continue treatment, or cajoling an official to provide resources to support critical testing and treatment programs.  Perhaps most importantly, Marva reminds us that life is not over when someone contracts HIV, and that no one should become less human or less valued just because they are HIV positive.

Marva Jervis began her nursing career in 1974, and later earned a Master’s Degree in HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  She is widely recognized for transforming the All Saints Camp in Nassau into a hospice and refuge for those people living with HIV/AIDS.  This was in the 1980s, at the height of the worldwide AIDS epidemic, when HIV-positive patients faced stigmatization and discrimination, and often were not welcome at health care clinics because of fear and misunderstanding of the disease.  Few medical providers were trained to administer to HIV/AIDS patients.

To fill this need, Marva raised money to transform a room at the camp into a first aid station, while making sure patients got medications by providing transportation to the few clinics open to them.  When a doctor discharged a patient from an HIV/AIDS clinic, he or she often sent the patient to the All Saints Camp to continue under Marva’s compassionate care.  There, she worked with little pay or recognition to make sure people had hot meals to eat, clean clothes to wear, and a decent place to call home.

In 1991, Marva continued her care of HIV/AIDS patients in the Infectious Disease Unit of Princess Margaret Hospital, where she became the first certified AIDS Care Nurse in the entire Caribbean region.  During her time at PMH, she was known for training her nurses to treat HIV patients properly and for boosting patient morale by celebrating birthdays and other special occasions.  Perhaps her most lasting legacy at PMH was the “Prevention with Positives” program, which she developed to train over 100 health care providers on how to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission .

In 2010, Marva became the Director of the Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS Center.  There, she expanded training on how to care for newly diagnosed HIV-positive patients and how to counsel those living with the disease.  In 2015, she created a new effort to provide care for HIV-positive individuals who have not received consistent medical treatment, ensuring no one is left behind.

Marva has educated people far and wide on what HIV is, how it is transmitted – and perhaps equally important – what HIV is not, and the many ways that a person cannot catch the disease.  As a result, she has been instrumental in reducing the discrimination and stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.

Marva also has been a strong supporter of the relationship between the United States and The Bahamas through PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, as we have worked together to get The Bahamas to zero and achieve an AIDS-free generation.

We could not ask for a better friend and partner than we have in Marva Jervis.  Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you, the U.S. Embassy’s 2016 Woman of Courage.