Today is World AIDS Day. I spent a few hours this morning sitting in a mall beside a display I’d designed for Bracelet of Hope, the charity I’ve been volunteering with for the last few months. I talked to about three people the entire time I was there, and I couldn’t help but get a little riled up about a few things as I sat and pondered life and the HIV/AIDS situation.
As a side note I want to mention that I used to be slightly bitter and perhaps a little judgmental about the world, about how Western people in general tend to be self centered and materialistic. Didn’t they know there were starving children in Africa? I learned however that that kind of attitude doesn’t really help anyone or solve anything and can leave you feeling… bitter and judgmental, which is not really a good thing. So I’m pleased to say I stopped feeling that way. For the most part.
Back to this morning. I was a little bit saddened at how few people stopped at the table. At the beginning of my shift I sat in a cafe just next to the display to have a snack, and I noticed that people seemed less intimidated to approach than when I was there. Was it the dreads? Perhaps I don’t seem approachable. Perhaps I don’t engage people in conversation very well. Or perhaps, and this is the theory I’m learning towards, people were afraid I’d ask them for money. Which I wouldn’t have turned down, of course, but it wasn’t the point of my display. The point was to raise awareness and get people thinking that there actually is hope for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially in the country of Lesotho, in my opinion.
It’s not that I don’t understand people’s points of view… I can imagine the thoughts going through their heads: “Not another charity. I can’t afford to give any more, especially at this time of year. And if I start talking to that girl, she’ll probably guilt me into giving something. Not now. Twenty-four days left to get everything on my list.” I can’t be super judgmental here ’cause I have the same thoughts sometimes. But the truth is that we all have too much crap!! We honestly do not need all of the things we have. We don’t need all of the extra calories we consume. We live in excess. Again, I’m talking about myself. I constantly buy things I don’t need, I just “want”. It’s not a crime… it’s not even wrong. It’s just… a lot. I wonder how much money Canadians or Americans or Westerners people spend on Christmas gifts in a season.
Okay, I just googled it. I found a study from 2006 published in the Toronto Star. They found through telephone surveys that the average amount people planned to spend on Christmas gifts was $861. Let’s multiply that by, say, 20 million (I doubt three and four year old Canadians spend $861 on presents) – that’s $17,220,000,000. That’s 17 billion(I think… I had to google it). Anne-Marie’s goal is for every Canadian to spend $5 on a bracelet, and that would raise enough money to provide ARVs for everyone in Lesotho. ARVs prevent the transmission of disease from mother to child, and also between partners(most of the time). That alone would make such a huge difference, don’t you think? 5 x 34 million is 170 million. I’m not saying that you should forgo buying presents and donate $861 to charity. (although I wouldn’t discourage it either!) Giving and receiving presents at Christmas is always very nice and makes people feel special. It’s just something to think about, something to put in perspective that we really do have the power to eradicate AIDS in Lesotho.
Okay. That’s my rant. Now here’s a message from Anne-Marie that appeared in my inbox last night and also on the front page of the Guelph Mercury this morning. Thank you for reading.
In the last month, I have assessed and treated too many teenagers with depression and anxiety.
One was particularly eloquent as he described his state of mind. Our conversation took a philosophical turn. He lamented about the state of the world and how much more difficult it is for his generation than it was for mine.
“The world is a pretty messed up place you know,” he said. “The future is not looking too great for us.”
Something has gone horribly wrong. Many things have gone horribly wrong.
Growing up, my concerns revolved around my wardrobe options and what I was doing on Friday night. It was before the era of government debt, astronomical personal debt, global warming and AIDS pandemics. There weren’t 3 billion people living in extreme poverty. There weren’t 16 million AIDS orphans. The planet and its inhabitants were not on a suicidal trajectory and kids did not carry the weight of a crumbling world on their shoulders.
It is World AIDS Day and frankly, the world is a mess. Last week, the board of the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria made a horrifying decision to cancel it’s next round of funding to recipient countries as donor nations renege on their pledges in the face of a crumbling global economy.
This was a $12 billion fund created in 2001 by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General. It is a remarkable feat of global cooperation, a fund that is credited with tipping the point on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in the third world, saving millions of lives. Now it sits inert.
This has massive implications. Third world economies that were just beginning to emerge and recover from the devastating effects of HIV will collapse as yet another young generation dies. Young people by the millions will vanish as they did in the nineties and the first decade of this millennium As well, the world will have to live with it’s greatest shame: the responsibility for and neglect of millions of AIDS orphans.
And all this, just as we have come to know that treatment not only allows a person with HIV to live a normal life expectancy but that this treatment stops transmission. This pandemic could be over in a matter of years.
I can’t comprehend the forces that have led us here. How did we accumulate so much debt? Why has the desire for power, affluence, wealth and comfort caused us to neglect humankind and not just humankind but our precious planet? I would argue, the sinister forces that have lead to the collapse of this beautiful fund are the same forces that have threatened the physical and emotional well-being of our young people our neighborhoods, our communities our world.
Today, I had hoped to celebrate the global community’s vast accomplishments in the fight against these treatable and preventable diseases, celebrate the restoration of life and the transformation of once destroyed third world villages. Instead I am angry, unsettled and afraid for all of us in a world that is darkening by the minute.
It is time to re-set things.
It is time for ordinary citizens to fill the gap between obscene wealth and power and the poor and destitute.
This is a call to action. I have watched my community’s miraculous response before. The world needs us to respond again.
I believe Guelph could end the AIDS pandemic in Lesotho despite the loss of the Global Fund. I believe we could do this in the next decade. We have enough skill, talent, expertise, drive, intelligence and leadership in this remarkable community. To do it, would require far less than you might imagine. It is about partnerships and relationships between the people of Lesotho and the people of Guelph: business to business, school to school, church to church, service group to service group, families to families. The infrastructure is already in place and it is growing rapidly.
We are fueled by groups of women in Guelph who have decided to give up their expensive lattes and trips to the mall and donate $450/month to support a foster home in Lesotho. Guelph now supports five, housing 30 AIDS orphans. How difficult would it be for us to sponsor 30 more?
We are energized by growing Income Generating Activities. With small amounts of start-up funds, Bracelet of Hope is supporting young community leaders in Lesotho as they endeavor to start their own small businesses. Each has the ability to elevate their villages out of poverty. What if each business in Guelph sponsored like-minded business ventures in Lesotho?
We are inspired by the growing number of Guelph people finding ingenious ways to contribute such as the Speedvale Chicks, at Scotiabank, who have set a goal of raising $10,000 for the grandmothers’ poultry group in the village of St. Michaels, Lesotho. There are also people such as Rob Campbell who is working to bring Q to Guelph with all proceeds going to Bracelet of Hope and the people of Lesotho.
And the group I am most inspired by, the students at Bishop Macdonell High School who, on Dec. 2 will host their sixth annual Bracelet of Hope Dance-a-thon and this year the students of St. James and Lourdes will join them. These kids have raised thousands for the people of Lesotho.
There is a growing movement in our city, a growing group of compassionate, good people who are marking themselves with bracelets, who are looking outside themselves and their own world to the world at large. It is a growing force for good that fills me with hope. We are capturing the attention of our young people. My prayer is that they will feel hopeful too.
Join in this transformative effort. Stand up as we watch the Global Fund fall. Give our youth the hope they need, the leadership they require, the purpose they crave as we work towards One Country: AIDS Free.