Reflections on World AIDS Day
According to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis, a book authored by Dale Hanson Bourke, approximately 8,500 people die of AIDS every day. The author explains: “AIDS is the biggest public health problem the world has ever faced. It has already surpassed the bubonic plague, which wiped out 25 million people—one quarter of Europe’s population at the time. An estimated three million people die each year from AIDS, a death toll that has been compared to 20 fully loaded 747s crashing every single day for a year.”When even one airplane crashes, our television, newspapers, the internet and other media outlets quickly disseminate the information. Where then are daily or weekly stories on AIDS and the toll this pandemic is taking around the world? Why do so few articles alert us to the relationship between AIDS, poverty, sexual trafficking, and the unavailability of drug cocktails in many countries around the world? Is it of interest that women, at one of the few facilities in India for those suffering and dying of AIDS, must take turns sleeping on the beds and sitting on the ground? Perhaps the AIDS epidemic kills too many, leaving us too frightened, and too hopeless to act.
Awakening to a Crisis
For years I was aware of AIDS at a certain level. Here and there I would read an article on AIDS, comment negatively on the failure of certain players, such as drug manufacturers, to take proactive steps to help those in need, and move on to the projects, meetings, relationships in my life. AIDS was an issue, but it was not my issue, perhaps because of the lack of contacts I had with persons suffering of AIDS and the lack of exposure I had to the issues contributing to the toll of AIDS around the world. That changed in 2004 when the senior pastor of my church and his wife traveled to South Africa. The video broadcast of their interviews with individuals impacted by or living with HIV/AIDS moved me deeply. In particular, I remember being told that a child seen in one of the interviews had died shortly after the interview. Suddenly, AIDS had faces, and I wondered how I could have been inactive for so long to the issues, the suffering and the toll in human lives.
The work of my pastor and his wife challenged me to teach myself about HIV/AIDS in a consistent and meaningful way. I read The Skeptic’s Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis, and attended a series of seminars on issues related to AIDS, not allowing the everyday things of my life to dull the impact of the interviews and the glimpse that I had of the suf- fering brought by AIDS. I watched an interview with rock star Bono in which he detailed his involvement with issues related to poverty and AIDS, and challenged individuals and the church to get involved and make a difference. I also watched an interview with filmmaker Richard Curtis, the director of The Girl in the Café, and the mastermind behind the show American Idol: Idol Gives Back. In the interview, an unforgettable moment came from a short film clip by Curtis. It is after 11:00p.m., in a city in India, and a girl, no more than six or seven years old, wearing a yellow dress, arranges a blanket and a pillow on a sidewalk. Her bed made to her satisfaction, she settles in for the night, as a man veers around, to avoid stepping on her, and continues on his way. Tears came to my eyes as I wondered what had happened to the girl’s mother; why a girl so young was on the streets at night.
Making a Difference
The faces and the interviews chal- lenged me and changed me. I could not forget, and I could not be content to have “others” find solutions. I renewed a rela- tionship with World Vision International, an organization caring for vulnerable children around the world. Through World Vision’s Hope Child Program, I sponsored Mpundu and Theresa from Zambia, Etenesh from Ethiopia, and Caroline from Kenya. These children, my children, live in communities under the shadow of AIDS, in communities where individuals struggle to survive on a dollar a day, in communities in which life expectancy has plummeted to less than 40 years. The funds I contribute help the children by giving them access to education, clean water, and food, while also improving the communities in which the children live by helping adults learn bet- ter farming techniques and women start businesses through micro-enterprise loans.
A Walk on World AIDS Day
One number has particularly made the pandemic real to me. Every day more than 6,000 children are orphaned by AIDS. It is a frightening toll, and when multiplied by the number of days in a month, mirrors the devastation brought about by the tsunami. Sometimes aging grandparents try to care for the children. Far too often, the children must care for themselves in child-headed households.
For several years, World Vision has sponsored a walk in the Chicago Loop on World AIDS Day to raise awareness about the toll of AIDS on children, and, in particular, children living in Africa and Asia. The walkers take 6,000 steps, approximately two and one half miles, in solidarity with the children orphaned that very day by AIDS. In 2006, after watching the movie, A Closer Walk, friends on the North Shore were moved to respond in some way to the AIDS crisis. We joined World Vision’s efforts by planning a walk in Glenview on December 1, 2006. In 2007, my church Willow Creek North Shore, and Rise International, an organization that has raised funds and built more than 110 schools in post civil war Angola, joined the effort to raise awareness about the toll of AIDS. The walk took place once again in Glenview, but organizers added a concert with WAToTo, a children’s choir from Uganda. The free walk and concert attracted approximately 300 par- ticipants from North Shore communities.
A Challenge to Readers
In 2008, I chaired the planning committee for the World AIDS Day Walk & Concert. The walk on December 6, 2008, again 6,000 steps, a step for each child orphaned that day, took place in Evanston and was intended to continue awareness building on the North Shore about the plight of AIDS orphans. The concert with the African Children’s Choir, a group that performs around the world and that has been featured on American Idol: Idol Gives Back, was inspirational, reminding us all that we can make a difference. Princess Kazune Zulu, a young mother impacted by AIDS, provided opening remarks for the day’s events and led a charge of approximately 500 walkers.
Each participant in this year’s World AIDS Day Walk & Concert received an educational packet with information about next steps. The challenge to participants was to become more educated about the issues, and to determine to take a next step, an action step. My challenge to readers of this article is the same: education and action. AIDS is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our times, with an ever-increasing toll in human lives and suffering. We can each make a difference, however, whether by raising awareness about the issues, advocating on behalf of those impacted by HIV/AIDS, or more directly helping those suffering or impacted by AIDS. In 2009, learn more about the issues, take a step and make a difference in the fight against AIDS.