Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World AIDS Day is Also a Day of Celebration. Here's Why....

The global community observes World AIDS Day today, Dec. 1, to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.  While we don't want to dwell on statistics, there is one figure that is important.   According to a new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, or UNAIDS, almost 63 million people have been infected with the HIV since 1981.  And at the end of 2009, some 33.3 million people were living with HIV, including 2.5 million children.

But in addition to awareness and action, today should also be a day for hope.  We should be celebrating all the efforts, small and large, to address this problem.

I would like to especially highlight the work of Kristin Wetzler of Leawood, Kansas.  Kristin, a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader in 2007, served in the Peace Corps for three-plus years in Swaziland, where she worked in AIDS education and other community work.  The rate of HIV/AIDS infections has been very high in Swaziland (as it has been in much southern Africa).   So the problem might have seem overwhelming at times.  But Kristin kept a very positive attitude.  When she came back to United States, she decided that her ministry would be to find ways to assist the people in the communities in Swaziland with whom she bonded.  So she set up a non-profit organization called Swaziland Arts for Education (S.A.F.E.) and even held a fundraiser in New York City, with the help of her family.

The concept of S.A.F.E. is very simple.  The organization provides a vehicle for women of Swaziland to sell their art in the U.S.

At left is a sample of one of the pieces of art.  See a couple of others.

All proceeds go to the artists and the communities to devote toward education for orphans and other children affected by HIV/AIDS.

"It is our hope and belief that through donations and by selling beautiful, handmade art and home accents from Swaziland to you, we can help keep Swazi orphans and vulnerable children who otherwise could not continue their education in school," says the S.A.F.E. Web site.

Here is what Kristin says about her vision.
Long before the idea of S.A.F.E. surfaced, it was impossible for me not to be aware of the suffering around me in Swaziland on a daily, even hourly basis through my service with the Peace Corps. Students would come to my door pleading for assistance; I had nothing to give them. I was friends with people who weren’t in school and should have been. I was friends with mothers who had no means to provide for their children.
Everyone asked me for things; food, money, school fees, candy, literally the clothes off my back sometimes. Much of the time I felt helpless to do anything. I could only offer them myself, and that could not appease a hungry stomach, pay the annual school fees, provide much needed medicine or give whatever else was needed. I worked a lot in the school and it seemed in many ways kids left behind their sorrow when they came to school.
They laughed and spent time with their friends. They played sports. They dreamed. They know education is the gateway to a better life. Business, education and the news are all conducted in English in Swaziland. Without an education, children don’t learn English. Without learning English they cannot fully participate in their own society.
The per capita income in Swaziland is US$2,280 and school fees range from $150 to $350 per child a year. I began to comprehend the mountain these families must climb and I desperately wanted all children in school.  Read more
As part of her outreach, Kristin puts together a newsletter entitled Silapiya, which means "We're Alive" in SiSwati, the language of Swaziland. 

So today, on World AIDS Day, we celebrate Kristin Wetzler of Leawood, Kansas.

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