Tag Archives: AIDS

Fundraiser for Malawian Women and Children – Donate and Win!

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I think about my time in Malawi a lot. I don’t think anyone can have such an experience without it affecting them throughout the rest of their lives – which is one of the reasons I wrote my book Vuto, inspired by my experiences in the country known as the Warm Heart of Africa.

My intention with the novel has always been two-fold:

  1. To open readers up to a culture and a people they may have never known about before.
  2. To give back to the Malawian people.

It’s time to kick that second purpose into gear!

Current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) are doing some fabulous work in-country right now, especially with initiatives aimed at youth and women. Two projects that particularly excite me are Go Girls! and Hope Kit:

Go Girls! Community Mobilization

According to PCV Tyler Walton, “HIV rates in Malawi are upwards of 10% of the population and the risk for contracting the virus is even higher among adolescent girls. These risks come from gender roles, gender-based violence, high dropout rates from school, economic inequalities, physiology of disease contraction, and many other factors. Go Girls! uses local youth groups to lead community mobilization meetings and facilitate community discussions on how to best address the issues in a locally appropriate manner. Our current project is targeting six villages and we hope to expand if our pilot project is successful.  With this pilot we have the opportunity to reduce vulnerability for over 500 adolescent girls, increase rates of those completing school and reduce overall HIV rates in the local community. Every 20 cents can change the life of one girl.”

Hope Kit Training

Hope Kit is an interactive training program that targets youth with HIV prevention messaging,” Walton explains. “We are hoping to do a training of trainers with two leaders from 10 different youth groups. These new trainers then go back to their communities and do out reaches with their youth groups, spreading valuable information about making healthy choices and avoiding contracting HIV. Peace Corps has already provided 10 Hope Kits for this training and we just need a small amount for additional supplies. This will be the second implementation of this project. In the first, eight other youth groups and two schools participated and in their community interventions they reached over 1,500 people! With 60,000 people in our catchment area, we know we can do more!”

I’m partnering with Tyler to make a difference. Today through July 4th, every dollar donated will earn the donor one entry to win a prize pack that contains an autographed copy of Vuto, a bookmark, tote bag, postcard and poster.

Not only that, but I will match every dollar donated as well.

Interested in participating? Send a donation to walkleyaj@gmail.com through PayPal today.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, Social Justice, Vuto, Women, Writing

World AIDS Day: 2007 and 2011

Back when I was in college, I was one of the leaders of my Gay-Straight Alliance. Each year I took on the task of fundraising on December 1st for World AIDS Day. It became a passion of mine, to raise funds for AIDS organizations. The AIDS cause was also the reason I went into the U.S. Peace Corps as a health volunteer as soon as I graduated.

Today is World AIDS Day 2011 and I thought I would post my 2007 blog regarding the same day four years ago for your reading pleasure:

If you didn’t know already, this coming Saturday is World AIDS Day. Last year at this time I set up my very own donation drive in my college’s union building. A big poster announcing the event was displayed behind me on the plate-glass windows looking into our cafeteria. I sat all day on the couch in front with a box and hundreds of red ribbons to give out. Even if a student passed by lacking pocket change, I distributed the ribbons freely, feeling the importance of getting the message out and raising awareness above any and all monetary contributions. Friends and strangers threw money at me and signed the poster behind me, all serving to present an image of solidarity and support for the AIDS cause. All told at the end of the day I made $50 – not bad for college students, I must say! I doubled the amount, giving $50 of my own money to the Pennsylvania Community AIDS Alliance in Harrisburg.

This year, I am unable to do the same seeing as I have since graduated. But, I figure, why not blog about it at least. You would have to be six feet under to not know about the AIDS pandemic currently. The majority of us would point to Africa when the subject arises, seeing as the continent is fraught with the disease and lacking the proper medication to curtail it. But what about other areas of the world? What about the United States? A new study revealed today that out of the entire nation, the District of Columbia has the highest rate of AIDS infection out of every other city. What’s more is that the preliminary understanding of the disease and who it affects can be tossed out the window. According to Ian Urbina of The New York Times, “the disease is being transmitted to infants, older adults, women and heterosexual men at an epidemic pace, according to a report released Monday by city health officials” (“Report Finds Washington Has Highest AIDS Infection Rate Among U.S. Cities”, 27 Nov 2007). So much for ‘gay cancer’! To be sure, Urbina writes later, “The report also found that the disease spread through heterosexual contact in more than 37 percent of the cases detected from 2001 to last year, in contrast with the 25 percent of cases attributable to men having sex with men.” This is truly becoming a problem for everyone and an issue all Americans should be educated about and kept up-to-date with.

Evidently, “more than 12,400 people in the city — about 1 in 50 — are living with AIDS or H.I.V.” This is certainly not a statistic to be proud of. Washington’s AIDS prevention office has been faulted, fingers pointing at the 13 directors the agency has seen come and go in the past 20 years. To make matters worse, “from 2001 to 2006, 56 children, ages 13 or younger, were found to have either H.I.V. or AIDS, and almost all of them were infected at birth.” This is incredibly frustrating to learn since such cases are very much avoidable.

Consistent HIV testing is a must, especially for those taking part in risky behavior. If American citizens, living in the First World, are incapable of being responsible about their health in this way, how can we expect Third World Africans to do the same?We cannot disregard the measures that have been implemented by city officials to combat the spread of the virus, however minimal or ineffective they may be. “Dr. Shannon Hader, who became head of the city’s H.I.V./AIDS Administration in October, said the city[…] began providing voluntary screening to all incoming prison inmates, tripled the number of locations for free screening and initiated a free condom distribution program.”

Awareness raising is also something Hader boasts, identifying city programs offering antiretroviral treatment, regardless of a persons’ economic situation. These are definitely steps in the right direction.


What remains to be overcome is D.C.’s refusal to approve needle exchange programs, members of Congress hell-bent on the notion that such programs perpetuate drug use as opposed to curtailing it. While this has always been a fraught issue state-by-state, it’s safe to say that, if nothing else, needle exchange programs do help curtail HIV transmission from user-to-user.

These are all important pieces of information to know and educate others about. Remember to get tested yourself every three months if you are sexually active, and encourage family and friends to do the same. The more people who are aware of their HIV status, the more people will be spared from being infected in the long run.

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Filed under AIDS, Social Justice

NaNoWriMo Meets Blog 2007: The Witch Trials Aren’t Over

Today, November 15, back in 2007, I posted on my original blog, Peaceful Ponderings, about certain traditions in Africa that are antiquated and leading to the torture and death of hundreds, if not thousands. It only seems fitting to post this now as I take on WEEK THREE of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and my own Africa-based novel takes off.

Take a gander:

Most of us have heard about the Salem witch trials, or the drownings and burnings that took place in Europe centuries ago. In the Western world, we understand that this phenomenon was catalyzed by superstition and the inability to explain certain illnesses and weather, among other factors. But there are still places on this planet in 2007 where witchcraft is considered rampant, and innocent people, including children, are paying the price.

A New York Times article today entitled “African Crucible” by Sharon LaFraniere discusses the hundreds of children killed or cast out of their homes and communities under suspicion of being witches. Considering that the vast majority of Africa is considered to be the Third World, it is not hard to believe that there would still be misunderstandings akin to those prevalent in Massachusetts circa 1692. When cattle die, it is not because of a bovine epidemic, drought or lack of food, it is because a neighbor put a hex on them. When two parents perish at the hands of a mysterious illness, it is not HIV/AIDS, it is their child using magic because he is a witch.

LaFraniere writes, “In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accuses of being witches, and then are beaten, abused or abandoned.” She goes on to state that by casting these children out of the community, there is less pressure to provide for them, allowing other family members to eat more; a definite bonus when you are in a situation akin to near starvation. It may be difficult to believe that a family would actually fabricate a witchcraft accusation against a son or daughter just so they could have a little more food for themselves at the dinner table, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

In my opinion and, I’m sure, in yours as well, the measures that have and are being taken in these regions of the world are beyond desperate – they are horrific. LaFraniere reports on the actions of “a Luanda mother [who] blinded her 14-year-old daughter with bleach to try to rid her of evil visions. In August, a father injected battery acid into his 12-year-old son’s stomach because he feared the boy was a witch…” It is incomprehensible to me how anyone could take such actions against anyone, let alone their own children. Such accounts go to show just how ingrained superstitions are in these cultures.

These three nations are not the only ones where these beliefs are rampant. Indeed, when I was living in Malawi I heard of similar circumstances as well. At a dance by the Guli Wam Kulu, an animistic religion native to the area, I witnessed a mentally-disturbed man who was attempting to entertain the audience. It was obvious to us Westerners that he must have had a mental disability, but when I asked a Malawian the answer was usually that the man was possessed, or a witch. Nobody got to close to this man, and when he tried to take money from the dancers, he was quickly chased away. Nobody wanted anything to do with them. They simply ignored him until he became enough of a nuisance to take action. Certainly, nobody wanted to help him.

An interesting aspect of African witchcraft, at least in Malawi, is that it cannot be used against blood relatives. Obviously, considering familial cast outs, maimings and killings described in Angola and Congo, this is not true everywhere. It is near impossible to change these beliefs when even national officials, professionals and medical personnel are believers. If a person cannot get the medical assistance they desire at a health facility, they will turn to traditional medicine – witch doctors. If a hex is suspected on themselves or a family member, for instance, the doctor will put a hex on their enemy who will, in turn, come to the doctor to hex them back. Fairly ludicrous to us, but downright understandable to many places in Africa. In Angola, healer João Ginga, 30, casts bad spirits out of people inside a narrow, mud-walled room. “”If someone has a bad spirit, I can tell […] We treat more than a thousand cases a year.”” The man’s business is definitely lucrative with clients paying in cash, candles and perfume among other items they can come up with. Some of the methods are questionable at best. Here are some examples:

– Poultice plant inserted into the anus

– Head shaving

– Two weeks of sequestering

– Upside-down suspension for a night

Is it any wonder why a child would confess to a crime they did not commit after going through such torture? Unfortunately, even if they do and even if a healer like Ginga treats a patient, a family is not always content, casting them out nonetheless.

There are steps being taken slowly in countries like Angola where the atrocities have been escalating. “The Angolan city of Mbanza Congo, just 50 miles from the border with Congo, has blazed a trail. After a child accused of witchcraft was stabbed to death in 2000, provincial officials and Save the Children, the global charitable organization, rounded up 432 street children and reunited 380 of them with relatives, the witchcraft report stated” (LaFraniere). After such actions took place, the prevalence of child outcasts has definitely dropped. In Uige, a city 100 miles north, however, the opposite trend is occurring; child persecution is rising.

As long as these beliefs remain ingrained in people’s heads, it is unlikely significant change will occur any time soon. It is nearly impossible to make alterations when you are battling against culture, and that is what is happening; not just in terms of witchcraft, but female genital mutilation, AIDS and wife inheritance as well. The grassroots campaigns against these phenomena educating people on the ground are truly what is going to make a difference. Let’s hope that one less child dies today so a hundred less can die a month from now.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, Politics, Social Justice

Has a Cure for AIDS Been Found?

I was surprised to read about the so-called “Berlin Patient” this week, an HIV-positive man who, after a unique bone marrow transplant, has no more signs of the HIV virus. This is such a huge step forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS and, as a member of that fight, I could not be more excited.

I have been outspoken against HIV since college when I was a board member of Dickinson College’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Spectrum.

Being a part of Spectrum was one of the best parts of my college experience, hands-down. This was where I found a lot of my friends and where I found myself as a result (along with the ever-important Arts Haus, of course, where I found my family on campus). We were constantly trying to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Every December 1 for World AIDS Day, we’d arrange members of Spectrum to sit outside and collect donations in the student union for the entire day.

As Dickinson GSA, we’d also be involved in other campus activities for World AIDS Day. One year, we were even able to host parts of the AIDS quilt. Here’s a picture of two of my friends, Caitlin Conyngham and Katie Mosher, along with myself standing before one of these sections:

Even after I graduated, I went into the U.S. Peace Corps as a health volunteer. I chose to go to Malawi, Africa specifically so I could educate people about HIV/AIDS. Here’s a picture of my Malawian host family and me at the end of my training:

It amazes me how much has changed about the treatment of HIV/AIDS in such a relatively short period of time. Contracting HIV used to nearly be a death sentence. Treatment was not available to everyone who needed it, especially in the Third World.

Unfortunately, it’s really the Third World that needs the most help with this disease and it’s unlikely that they will receive the treatment the “Berlin Patient” was able to receive. Considering that most HIV+ persons in developing countries cannot even afford antiretroviral drugs, what’s the likelihood of any of them receiving “a bone marrow transplant using cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation, known as CCR5 delta 32″?

This being the case, while the thought of a possible cure for this virus is exciting and a major step forward, it will not be for those who need it most. The next step must be to find a treatment for those who cannot pay for it. Consider this: “Even today, only just over five million of the 12 million or so people who need the drugs actually get them.” This is not surprising when treatment for HIV in the United States costs upwards of $20,000 a year. What we need is to find better alternatives, better and cheaper treatments, and more ways to distribute them to those who need it most.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, LGBT, Social Justice