Zulu, Haas urge AIDS action

AIDS activist Princess Kasune Zulu of Zambia has addressed world leaders and television audiences in her effort to raise awareness about issues of HIV/AIDS and poverty, but she spoke modestly with students at the College on Friday. “I would like to make students aware of just how complex the AIDS pandemic is,” she said as she encouraged them to learn about it and speak out about it.

Zulu, who is HIV-positive, and Steve Haas, vice president of World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization, discussed the AIDS pandemic in a Friday evening lecture sponsored by the Williams Christian Fellowship, Williams Catholic, the Public Health Alliance, PeaceTalk, Gospel Choir and the Feast.

The evening began with a fund-raising Broken Bread Meal in Griffin 3. Over 120 students attended and shared a meal of soy and corn flour porridge, the meal that many individuals affected by AIDS and poverty eat every day. Over porridge, participants discussed how AIDS affects the lives, families and communities of its victims.

The main presentation in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall started with the Gospel Choir’s performance of a South African song called “When He comes I shall be like Him.” Next a video presented the grim reality of the pandemic, and included harrowing statistics such as the fact that there are over 15 million orphans due to AIDS today.

The first speaker of the night, Haas called HIV/AIDS the greatest humanitarian crisis of our age. “We are not just dealing with Africa anymore in this time,” Haas said, noting that Russia currently has the highest HIV infection rate. He said he hoped that this generation will bring the AIDS pandemic to an end.

Zulu led the second part of the presentation, detailing her own battle with the disease: she was orphaned by AIDS at age 15, had to marry a much older man to provide for her siblings and was diagnosed with HIV herself in 1997.

Speaking more generally about the disease, she said, “It is a social issue. It is a developmental issue. It is a burden on families, communities and people.”

Zulu noted that women are often marginalized in the regions where AIDS has taken the greatest toll. In many such regions, women have no income, no right to test for the virus without their husband’s permission and no traditional right to demand that their partners use contraceptives. She also emphasized the plight of children. “In the massiveness and complexity of the issue, we could forget its weakest victims,” Zulu said. “When you hear that 15 million children are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS, are you okay with this?”

Zulu ended by expressing the hope that the audience to stand up against the pandemic. “What can we do as individuals, as groups, as a community?” she asked. “You are the answer in a lot of ways. We can make a difference with our voices.”

Haas echoed Zulu’s statements in the next part of the presentation. “We so often miss the hope in the complexity of the issue,” he said. “We so often miss the ways we as individuals can help.” He also addressed the importance of religious institutions in combating the pandemic. “Is the church, mosque and synagogue going to wake up to those areas where the disease is the worst?” Haas asked, noting that such institutions are effective networks for distributing AIDS treatment and education.

The evening concluded with a question and answer session, in which Zulu and Haas fielded questions on practical aspects of advocacy, the cost of anti-retroviral drugs, World Vision’s acceptance of contraceptives in particular contexts of HIV/AIDS prevention and how college students can contribute. “This generation is answering questions of what life is,” Haas said. “It will also have to address how to safeguard it.”