“I have come to far more fully to understand and have respect for the tremendous power at the community level.”
– STEPHEN LEWIS, CO-DIRECTOR, AIDS-FREE WORLD
Canada’s former ambassador has made an impassioned plea to municipal leaders, urging them to support international efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Stephen Lewis was a guest speaker at the annual convention of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities last week. In 2008 the AMM marks its 10th anniversary as the united rural and urban organization, representing this province’s 198 rural and urban councils.
Appealing to small councils’ own grasp of the value of smaller communities and the power of grassroots action, Lewis urged municipalities to broaden this perspective to include twinning with rural communities in Africa and supporting humanitarian aid programs there.
Africa has become a continent of orphans, he said in a moving address describing the plight of 18 million children who’ve lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic.
Major institutional inventions and investments are being made in this struggle against HIV/AIDS, but these children see little of it, said Lewis, well known as an international envoy for humanitarian efforts.
“You learn, as you move through the grassroots communities, that very little of the money seems to get to the ground,” he said.
That’s in spite of the fact these bewi ldered chi ldren “find their only solace” in
small community-based projects, he said. These are projects which local women, often ill and struggling themselves, have developed to provide small daily meals and a little schooling for these youngsters.
“I have come to far more fully to understand and have respect for the tremendous power at the community level,” he said.
Lewis also spoke vehemently about how world governments in the recent days have found trillions of dollars to help bail out financial multinationals, yet have been unable for years to produce the merest fraction of that address the needs of the world’s poorest citizens.
“You can’t have a sustainable international community with this,” he said.
Lewis is the co-director of AIDS-Free World, a new international AIDS advocacy organization based in the U. S, and is chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF). Since 2003 the SLF has supported hundreds of community-based organizations in 15 countr ies, providing care to women infected with HIV/AIDS as well as assisting orphans and other AIDSaffected children.
Its efforts include the Give a Day to World AIDS campaign (www.giveaday.ca),a movement of Canadians responding to the AIDS pandemic in Africa, whereby individuals, families and workplaces participate by donating one day’s pay to support these grassroots AIDS initiatives.
Lewis’s speech touched many of the convention’s 950 delegates.
“We need to do more,” said R. M. of Morris Councillor Ralph Groening in an interview as the crowd filed from the convention hall following Lewis’s address.
“As rural leaders, as provincial leaders, we can play a part outside our specific responsibilities,” he said. “How to make that happen… I don’t know, but we need to develop a will to make that happen. We need, simply, to do more.”