The following was submitted to the Daily Bruin at 1:40pm on Monday, April 14, 2008.
Think you know about AIDS? So did I.
We think we care. We know all about AIDS. We can say how many people die of it per second, minute, hour, day, month and year. We know the socio-political, the epidemiological, and the international developmental implications of AIDS. Such information shows we care.
But do we care? Do we know? Really? Do we understand what life is like in Africa? Are our hearts moved by the incomprehensible number of victims? Do we weep and mourn over those whose lives are being ravaged by AIDS? Before today, I never did. I said I did, but I didn't.
But today I wept for AIDS victims. I'm a controlled, rational person who doesn't cry over much. But I was broken today. Today I visited the Acting on AIDS tent in Wilson Plaza below Jans Steps. For 20 minutes, I experienced the life of Steven, a 12 year old Ugandan boy. I felt a shadow of his fear and shame. I sat in a room like his. I held a gun like his. I worried about having AIDS. For 20 long minutes, I had the illusion of being a boy in Uganda, and all the terror that goes along with it.
Today my comfortable little world was rocked by the power of a story; the experience shattered my cool rationality. Today my heart was torn out of my chest as I, for the first time, began to grasp the magnitude of the devastation of AIDS.
Then I saw something I never thought I'd see. I saw Christians responding to AIDS maturely. I saw them leading the way in responsible international development. I saw them call out for dialogue on the spiritual and philosophical implications of this. I saw them comfort those who mourned.
I saw Christians responding to the pandemic responsibly. The experience was hosted by World Vision, a Christian nonprofit that spends over $1 billion annually to support development. Their missionaries are well-drillers, clinic workers and micro-financiers. They practice sustainable international development practices. They hire Africans to inspire Africans to improve their own conditions, and with American money, provide them with the resources to do it.
World Vision lets you sponsor a child in Africa, connecting you to a real victim of the epidemic. The program lets you provide real comfort through your finances and even your own words in letters they deliver for you. Part of your money goes to the child directly, and the rest goes to the development of his community.
I also saw Christians asking for intellectual discourse. Coming out of the tent, there is a sign: "Question! Vent. Philosophize. Share. Lament. http://groups.google.com/group/ActingOnAIDS" They challenge those of us who care about AIDS and love to think to debate and discuss this issue in an open forum. How should we feel about AIDS? How could a God allow this? Are we, in sunny California, obligated to respond? Where is God?
If you have the courage, visit the tent. 10am-10pm Tuesday; 10am-5pm Wednesday. Then do something about it. Sponsor an African child through World Vision. Or answer the intellectual challenge at the website above. Or do something else. But don't ignore it.
We owe the organizers a debt of gratitude for making AIDS tangible. It's not statistics. It's people. And I think I'm finally starting to understand.