Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dec 1 - World AIDS Day

As I passed by the Vodacom ad in the middle of a busy intersection in Arusha, I began to realize how big the AIDS crisis actually is. The ad..."Spread the message, NOT the virus"...does not say anything specifically about HIV/AIDS, but you know that is the virus that they are talking about. However, all I noticed were the advertisements and signs, not the suffering of the people due to the pandemic. I felt like I saw Tanzania through rosy colored glasses...

World AIDS Day is a day of recognizing the HIV/AIDS pandemic and supporting the people with the virus, supporting the education efforts and further knowledge of and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Show your support, wear a red ribbon. Donate to a charity, local or international, that supports AIDS research, orphans, communities affected, etc. Instead of hitting the bars this weekend, take the money you'd normally spend and put it to a charity. Why? Because the world community affected by HIV/AIDS needs us. What is a weekend out on the town vs being 5 years old, orphaned because his parents died of AIDS, dreaming big as any kid would, but not really knowing what will happen? Even just a little bit, we can all make a difference.

A month and a half ago, I participated in an art project to raise money for an orphanage in Kenya. The orphans lost their parents to AIDS or the complications of AIDS. I was given a girl at the orphanage to sponsor for my art project -- Anastasia, a 9 year old girl who dreams of becoming a veteranarian. I looked at the messages that the kids sent. They are like any other kid out there, dreaming of what they want to do when they grow up, dreaming of adventures, and having fun. Putting a face and name to this makes it all more real.

If it still doesn't make sense or seem real, let's look at the numbers. An estimated 39.5 million people worldwide are living with HIV or AIDS. Of the worldwide population, about 63% are in sub-Sahara Africa. In Swaziland, an estimated 1 in 3 people are infected. Count the number of people around you...imagine...1 in 3. In the US, there are approximately 2.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS. The numbers are staggerring...something needs to be done...

I applaud the people who are extremely proactive with AIDS awareness, from day to day -- the advocates, the educators, the medical professionals, the researchers, the volunteers. They are all amazing people.

I'll leave this message with an entertaining AIDS awareness sign seen in a village on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro...

And as the Vodacom ad in Arusha said, remember...Spread the message, NOT the virus.


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