Looking into the faces of AIDS

Rochelle Davidson

The following is an account by Rochelle Davidson, a senior honors, communication and sociology major, who is also pursuing a concentration in Africana studies. Davidson visited South Africa as a Connelly-Delouvrier scholarship student.

As I visited a poor township in Cape Town called Langa (which means the “rising sun” in Xhosa), I met children who had the brightest smiles I had ever seen, and such hope in their eyes, though they were young victims of HIV/AIDS. It was hard for me, a study-abroad student from the United States, to see this bright hope, while holding and looking in the eyes of a generation that had watched their parents die, and whose lives were shattered before they started. They weren’t children who were looking forward to the new school year and all the endless opportunities education offers. Instead, they would have to face shame, prejudice and discrimination, living in fear because of the stigma around HIV/AIDS. They were young teenage boys and girls who would have to sacrifice their adolescence to raise their younger brothers and sisters. Yet, they had hope.

HIV/AIDS is killing more people in Africa than the sum total of warfare, famine and other natural disasters combined. South Africa, with its recent legacy of racial apartheid, has made great strides in implementing a new democratic society, pledging equality and liberty for all. Yet, almost 10 years after its first democratic election, HIV/AIDS has repressed many of these new freedoms, making children and women suffer most.

South Africa, located in the southern part of sub-Saharan Africa, a region with the most devastating rates of the pandemic, has over 29.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS (over 70 percent of world AIDS cases), 2.4 million adults ages 15-34 dying in 2002 alone, and about 14 million orphans (close to the number of all children under five years old in the United States).

Though I had learned, theoretically, a great deal about the importance of social change, justice and peace for the sustainment of humanity, witnessing daily the inhumane conditions surrounding HIV/AIDS brought about a certain inclination that I didn’t get by reading about it. Walking in the streets of Cape Town, I saw images of the beautiful unending Atlantic Ocean as well as the merciless situations of poverty. I was so compelled by my first visit that I went back this summer as an intern, working with the International Human Rights Exchange program, in Durban, South Africa. Though a different city, the reality of HIV/AIDS was undeniable, and I came back to Villanova with a strong awareness and need to connect our campus and our lives to those children in South Africa.

“Awareness is essential; if Villanovans understand the severity of HIV/AIDS in the global community then we will no doubt act upon it with urgency and compassion.” This was my statement to Dr. Carol Anthony of peace and justice when I requested that Villanova University observe World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 2003. I knew that as students living in the United States we are not always aware of what happens outside our borders.

Over 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS today, and because the majority of these people are not in our neighborhood, we neglect their situation. However, we can and should do something about it. Observing World AIDS Day gives Villanova the opportunity to spread awareness and compassion in solidarity with the hope of these children thousands of miles away, who are our neighbors in the global village. We do not want these children in South Africa to feel estranged from our compassion and service. We should support and reassure them of our compassionate response to this global pandemic.