Stephen Lewis with children (Photo by Gillian Mathurin/SLF)

Grassroots

Spring 2013

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In this issue:
Message from Stephen Lewis
Community building at Developing Families Together
Women at the heart of the response to HIV/AIDS


Message from Stephen Lewis

It was 2003, the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Death enveloped Africa; Africa succumbed to death. In a frantic moment of despair, the Foundation was born.

Ten years on, and great change has come. Treatment is being rolled out in country after country. Male circumcision, to reduce transmission, is all the rage. Mothers are finally being put on full regimens of antiretroviral drugs to prevent passage of the virus to their babies and to keep themselves alive. Orphans are going to school. Grandmothers have emerged as one of the strongest forces on the continent. Scientists are talking of a vaccine; some are talking of a cure.

Who would have believed that one decade could achieve so much?

For the Foundation, as we think through our tenth full year of life, it’s been equally astonishing. We’ve supported close to 700 different projects over the decade, in 15 countries, involving tens of thousands of women, men and children, in scores upon scores of communities. I will happily admit: it takes one’s breath away.

Ten years on, and great change has come. But there’s still a monumental struggle against the virus.

Above all, there’s the grandmother phenomenon. I’m certain that when Ilana hatched the idea of the Grandmothers Campaign, uniting grandmothers of two worlds in umbilical solidarity, it never occurred to her that a stunning social force was in the offing. The Stephen Lewis Foundation has much to its credit—but nothing that approximates, I would think, the ascendance of the grandmothers movement.

Despite all of the advances I’ve readily acknowledged, there’s still a monumental struggle against the virus. The assumption in the western world that AIDS is now just a chronic disease, easily treatable with drugs, overlooks the fact that Africa is not North America. In the devastated, impoverished countries of Africa, the fractured cusp between life and death continues to haunt the continent.

It’s not a matter of numbers, although numbers tell the tale. Africa has some 24 million people living with HIV and AIDS; fewer than 7 million of them are in treatment. Obviously there’s a herculean task ahead to save the other millions. And however much the artful bureaucrats and statisticians play with numbers, nothing can change the fact that we’re losing 5,000 people, of every age, every day.

Catastrophically, in a terrifying affirmation of gender inequality, the great majority are women and girls.

It remains an apocalypse.

Photo by Alexis MacDonald/SLF

Women stand together at PENAF, an SLF partner organization in Kenya.

All of the assurances of an “AIDS-free generation” (just what generation might that be?) cannot wipe out the reality that mothers and fathers continue to die, day in and day out; that brothers are wrenched from sisters and sisters from brothers; that grandmothers still piteously grieve for their children; that orphans cry out for food, for school, for parenting; that drug stock-outs are commonplace; that the great majority of young children who need treatment are still not treated; that a thousand babies are born HIV-positive every day; that women are everywhere in every circumstance subject to sexual violence, with the nightmare possibility of HIV infection; that countries, communities, families struggle for resources.

There are never enough resources. That’s what’s most horrifying.

There was another tenth anniversary just passed: the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war. The expenditures, at the low end, were a minimum of $1 trillion; at the high end, as much as $3 trillion. To stop the carnage of AIDS, we need an additional annual amount of between $6–8 billion.

It’s a mathematical obscenity, and an incomparable human tragedy.

So that, in a nutshell, is why we ask for continued support. You will understand when I say that we want our work to be over. We want, one day, to close the Foundation down. But until every orphan, every grandmother, everyone living with AIDS, every community seeking prevention, treatment, protection and care, every little heroic project that needs a miniscule amount of funding to stay alive, every overburdened counsellor, nurse, midwife and doctor reeling from the demands of the pandemic—until they are all liberated from the Armageddon of the worst communicable disease ever to afflict humankind, we shall not rest.

And we count on your restlessness to join us.

Thank you,

Stephen Lewis
Chair of the Board
Stephen Lewis Foundation


Next: Community building at Developing Families Together >>

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