Folio News Story
January 6, 2006

Augustana students raise awareness of Africa's AIDS crisis

Stephen Lewis to speak during International Week

by Zanne Cameron
Bruce Phillips, a fourth-year student and AAA president, with Ugandan native Catherine Rubanga, are helping raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
Bruce Phillips, a fourth-year student and AAA
president, with Ugandan native Catherine Rubanga,
are helping raise awareness of the AIDS
epidemic in Africa.

What do an organic farmer from Alberta and an aspiring nurse from Uganda have in common? They have the University of Alberta, and a cause.

Both are members of the Augustana Against AIDS (AAA) Student Society, a small group of students with big goals at the U of A's Augustana Faculty campus in Camrose. Their hope is to raise awareness about AIDS in Africa by creating a long-term twinning project between the campus and an orphanage in Africa, and they also want to raise $50,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation this year.

"If we set the bar low we can only rise to mediocrity," said Bruce Phillips, a fourth-year student and AAA president.

AAA was formed in 2004/05 by a handful of students who were moved by a video of Lewis and the AIDs pandemic in Africa. Lewis, who heads a foundation that raises awareness for the cause, is the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He speaks Jan. 30 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre at 12 noon, and at 6:30 p.m. at Augustana.

"We just felt we had to do something," Phillips said. The students began raising awareness and funds last year. One of their most successful ventures was the Augustana Against AIDS Hockey for Life tournament, which pitted the Augustana Vikings team against the Viking, Alberta junior team in a weekend tournament over the 2004 Christmas break. The tournament was the brainchild of AAA alumnus Brian Rozmahel, an organic farmer from Viking who graduated from Augustana last year with a BA in development studies. The sold-out match raised almost $5,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

The students were pumped about the success of the event - both in dollars raised, and in awareness for the cause among students and the surrounding rural community. As an offshoot, and with Rozmahel's help, Viking has since twinned its school with one in Africa to help assist children orphaned by the ravages of the AIDS pandemic. The group, inspired further by its contact with the Stephen Lewis Foundation, was able to convince Lewis himself to visit Augustana campus next month.

Lewis will also give an opening address on human rights at 12 noon on Jan. 30 in the Horowitz Theatre, as part of the U of A's International Week activities. He delivers a keynote address on AIDS at the Augustana gymnasium at 6:30 p.m.

The AAA group wants the speech to be the beginning, not the end, of campus activities for the AIDs cause. "Our real goal is to make a connection with an orphanage that the students here can raise funds for and provide support to over time," Phillips said.

When Ugandan native Catherine Rubanga came to Augustana, little did she know that in a small city on the snowbound prairies of Alberta, she would find a way to help Africa. "AAA focuses on children and orphans," Rubanga noted. "For this cause I am totally there."

In a first-world political climate that often cautions against giving aid to what many call a hopeless cause, Rubanga would argue for the success of Uganda.

"My country is one of Africa's success stories. They have, in my lifetime, reduced the percentage of people with AIDS from over 20 per cent to six per cent. They did this with help, a lot of help. I know that I can make a difference."

To be making a difference from so far away from home is significant to Rubanga, who feels that she can connect to the campus community in a way that others may not be able to. "I can help people be aware that AIDS is not that far away and that Africa is not another planet."

The AAA group has sold more than 500 tickets to the January event. A sell-out crowd will move them $10,000 towards AAA's goal. Members are also making scarves, jewelry and other goods to sell. This year 'Hockey for Life' has expanded to the 'Sport for Life' campaign as Augustana's sports teams all added their support to the cause.

The students are also raising funds the old-fashioned way, giving presentations to Camrose service clubs, church groups and businesses. A donor recently offered $750 to AAA, if they can match the funds.