Student educates others about AIDS

Megan Angelo

Like many sixth graders are inclined to do, Martin Ganda of Zimbabwe and his American pen pal, Caitlin Stoicsticz, ended their letters to each other with “BF4E” – best friends forever. But Martin never could have known that, after several years of air mail, he would call Caitlin a sister.

“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here, enjoying Villanova,” said Martin, now a sophomore studying math and living in the quad. When Martin decided he wanted to attend a “first-world university,” the Stoicsticzs, who live nearby in Hatfield, Pa., flew him over and arranged for tours at local colleges. Awarded a full scholarship by the University, Martin packed his bags for freshman orientation and prepared to adopt the Stoicsticzs as his long-term host family. He has not returned to Zimbabwe since.

He has, however, found a way to bring the culture he left behind to campus. Along with junior Philip Akol, a native of Sudan, Martin recently founded the Villanova African Student Association, a group with two main objectives: to educate the student body on African ways of life and to support causes that alleviate poverty and other conditions caused by the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Though fashion shows, concerts and other expositions are still in the planning stages, the group has already organized an effort toward their second objective. They are currently selling red wristbands inscribed with “One World One Hope” to raise funds for African orphanages and AIDS research.

“In my country, one in four people is HIV positive,” Martin said, who has lost cousins and friends to the disease. “So we are doing all we can to help the orphans left by the disease.”

The bracelets cost $3 and are also being sold through several campus organizations, including Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Delta Gamma, Chi Omega and Alpha Phi.

“Our main target would be for everyone on campus to get one,” Martin said. He believes it’s a reasonable goal. Martin’s faith in the generosity of Americans and his affection for the country in general is something he says the people in his hometown of Mutare share.

“America shares, and I really like the fact that they have a good helping hand. Americans know they are blessed,” he says. “Everyone [at home] loves America – you can see somebody with an American flag on, and they don’t even have their own flag on. It’s like heaven.”

Martin often sends toys and clothes to his family, who learn which American products to ask for by watching television. His older brother recently requested a headband he saw rapper Fat Joe wearing on camera. “Everyone in the area, if I send something home, would come and have a feel of it – it’s from America, it’s a privilege,” Martin said.

He has found that Americans aren’t quite as informed abou African culture. While Martin is more than happy to answer questions about his native country, he can’t believe some of the ones he gets.

“It’s funny,” he said, shaking his head. “People think of a jungle, of monkeys swinging from one tree to the next; no towns, just animals.”

The reality of his country and other African nations, he explains, is that they are civilized and developed, but often extremely poor.

“If I send 50 bucks home, my family can sustain a fairly high-class lifestyle for a month,” saidMartin. “Here, kids get a car when they are 15 or 16. Back home, to own a car – I don’t know how to describe it. At school, sometimes there was one book for the whole class. Shoes are a really big privilege to have. People want food first, then education, so when it comes to procuring clothing and stuff, the money will be gone.”

A part-time job at the University admissions office allows Martin to help his family offset the costs of educating his three younger siblings, all of whom Martin hopes to send to college in the United States. As much as he misses his family, he doesn’t intend to settle in Zimbabwe after graduating. “I will definitely visit and see my family, but I don’t want to go and waste my education,” he said. “There are no opportunities as vast as in America. I will do all my best to help the people from my hometown through the connections I make here.”

Instead, the boy who names snow, fast food drive-thrus and jogging grandmothers among the American phenomena that amaze him plans to pursue a career here as an actuary. And for now, he’s simply focusing on showing his classmates how easy it is to can better the lives of people millions of miles away.

“Here, you can get anything you want,” Martin said, stretching and twisting one of the red wristbands around his hand. “If we all hope for the same thing, we can really change the world.”