Students in Catawba College's Class of 2012 were required to read Jim Wooten's book, "We Are All the Same" over the summer in preparation for their first-year experience. This common summer reading provides a common thread for intellectual discussion during their first-year seminar classes in the fall and during their classes on globalization in the spring.
These first-year students and their faculty members attended a BookRevue on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 in Hedrick Theatre on campus where they heard comments from three panelists. These panelists, Dr. Samuel Dansokho, an associate professor of religion and society at Hood Theological Seminary; Ms. Tara Van Geons, a former case worker with the Rowan County AIDS Task Force; and Dr. Constance Rogers-Lowery, an assistant professor of biology at Catawba, shared a different perspective on the book's key issue – the problem of AIDS in Africa.
Two first-year students, Melanie Hudson of Greensboro, N.C., and Sarah Morse of North Berwick, Maine, shared their personal reflections in the BookRevue commentary which follows.
The first speaker, Dr. Dansokho, exposed several important ideas during his time at the podium. Firstly, he emphasized the concept that HIV/AIDS was not the only problem affecting African countries. Exploitation of already poor countries has caused poverty to loom over desperate people for far too long. Severe poverty is an issue that still affects Africa today. Poverty has caused an already hideous disease to explode into a perpetual epidemic. So we must first ask ourselves, "What can improve the economic situations of HIV ravished countries?"A cure for HIV is not enough to solve the far-reaching problems of countries infected with HIV. Poverty should be combated as though it were the disease itself. In order to win the war on HIV, the battle against poverty must be won first.
Secondly, Dr. Dansokho introduced the idea that stories and memories are extremely important to the war on AIDS. We must all connect to AIDS victims through their own compelling backgrounds and battles. To read about their suffering, he noted, is not enough. As humans, we must feel their pain. It is easy for many people to separate themselves from emotional stories. The media is filled with horrificEvents that attempt to tear at the world's heartstrings, he said, but constantly hearing similar tales has forced the general public to become desensitized to others' trauma. This apathetic attitude is a catalyst to the effects of HIV. Inaction can cause the same shocking effects as attempted evil. We must find the courage to emotional invest ourselves in the tragedies of AIDS. Only then can we begin to battle HIV/AIDS as efficiently as possible.
This powerful emotional connection is found in Ms. Tara Van Geons' anecdote – the story of twin boys in Rowan County who lost their mother to AIDS, spent their lives infected with HIV, and finally succumbed to its power and passed away weeks apart from each other. Ms. Van Geons embodies the idea of emotional investment. Being near the disease for herself, seeing the horrendous effects of HIV for her own eyes, has changed her. She has seen the tremendous amount of courage it takes to simply wake up everyday and put one foot in front of the other when infected with HIV. For her, the disease had a face, a body, a personality that was being steadily attacked by the infection. To be so close to the human side of the ailment can bring the type of emotional connection that is needed to fight back against the disease. However, to simply hear her story can bring the same crushing reality and sense of humanity that is needed to care about the infection's devastating effects.
Although empathy is important to fighting HIV, equally important is a sound, logical understanding of the disease and how it affects the human body. That is why Dr. Constance Rogers-Lowery stepped in to explain the biological intricacies of HIV/AIDS. It is much easier to fight an exposed opponent rather than a silent killer, as HIV is now labeled by many. Ignorance about the disease, its causes and effects, and its treatments has increased the potency of the infection, she said. Chaos stemming from ignorance has given even more power to HIV. False conceptions held by African citizens, and South African President Thabo Mbeki specifically, have led to a venomous period of inaction by citizens – foreign and native – as well as African governments. Thus, an important step in battling HIV/AIDS, Dr. Rogers- Lowery said, is to education everyone, to simply spread the word about the biological side of the disease. Increased awareness would bring more people into the battle, more emotional power, and more intellectual power to fend off the disease with improved medicines.
What I learned from the three panelists is that although there are many steps to battling HIV/AIDS, we must remember one thing. HIV is more than a disease. It attacks more than just a body's immune system. HIV assaults a person's frame of mind. It eats away at hope and optimism to replace it with fear. It places an uncertain execution date on the heads of infected people. Those who rise above HIV's secondary motive, those who look into the grim face of pain and death while still holding on to happiness and the life given to them, have beaten the disease in one aspect. To continue to fight when the battle is surely lost is true courage, as millions of AIDS victims have shown us. As part of humankind, we must all look to their stories for encouragement, emotional motivation, and, most importantly, the healing power of love.
I want to save the world!
Not an absence of fear but being able to work through that fear. To be able to love, smile and laugh with death staring you in the face. To be able to watch someone you love be pushed away from society and to take a stand for what is right.
26,500 children die every day from poverty.
I will save the world.
Teach others to see the person behind the stereotype. "Arms raised and double hugs." (Van Geons) With just two shots of nevirapine, the chance of a baby being born with HIV is cut in half. It can be reduced further by a variety of more drugs and alternatives to breastfeeding. Unfortunately, most people in South Africa are too poor to afford these two drugs (Dr. Rogers-Lowery). Many of the people in South Africa are poor because they are still feeling the effects of apartheid. They're being asked by the world to pay for the militia that oppressed them.
1100 children die every hour from poverty.
I can save the world.
"If you don't remember, tragedies will always happen." (Dr. Dansokho) Today, Nkosi would be eighteen or nineteen if he had lived. "I could not go to another funeral, see another child's casket lowered into the ground." (Ms. Van Geons) "We [Africans] are poor because we make others rich. Accept the duty of remembering – we are all the same, hopefully something will change." (Dr. Dansokho)
18 children die every hour from poverty.
I could save the world.
"I hope that you, like me, will be mad enough and you will be sad enough that it will be totally impossible not to do something. What are the root causes of poverty?" (Dr. Dansokho) Until recently, pharmaceutical companies were making huge profits off nevirapine, making the drug even more unaffordable. Many people believe that "acquiring this disease is their own damn fault" (Ms. Van Geons) and that the mothers are murderers, for unintentionally giving their children HIV.
1 child every 3 seconds dies from poverty.
Why is the world silent?
We are all the Same.
We can save the world.