Charity concert at U pays tribute to World AIDS Week

Jerret Raffety

Linah Mairura, a biological sciences junior, said her friends in her home country of Kenya never took HIV or AIDS very seriously.

They went to the clubs, where they would party and drink, as did many people her age in the capital city of Nairobi, she said. Many of her male friends enjoyed picking up random women at the clubs, she said; they were just “having fun,” as they put it. No one was scared of getting an HIV infection, she said.

It would take a close friend of hers being infected with the virus to make her friends realize that HIV and AIDS are very serious threats, she said.

“He used to be a big party animal,” Mairura said of one friend. “Now, he’s very different.”

In an effort to spread the word about HIV and AIDS, the University’s Raising Awareness For Africa student organization, in cooperation with the African Student Association, hosted the World AIDS Week Charity Concert 2004 on Friday at the St. Paul Student Center.

The event commemorated World AIDS Week, which is dedicated to addressing worldwide concern about the spread of HIV and AIDS, said Elizabeth Apungu, president of Raising Awareness For Africa and technology sophomore.

Approximately 200 students, staff members, faculty members and community members attended, said Marcia Ashong, a Raising Awareness For Africa board member and College of Liberal Arts senior.

There is much dispute all over Africa about how to handle the epidemic. Radio commercials promote safe sex, while the church preaches abstinence, Mairura said.

The real problem is that no one realizes HIV and AIDS are very real threats all over the world, Mairura said.

“People get the impression that it’s not a big problem,” she said.

The event raised approximately $200 for the Zyombi Project, Ashong said.

The project is a nonprofit organization that engages in HIV and AIDS prevention education and is sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Cameroonian government sponsored free HIV and AIDS testing Wednesday. The Zyombi Project will provide treatment for the first 100 people who test positive.

The event featured performances by several student musicians. The music varied from African-influenced gospel and soul to reggae, with some groups performing songs written specifically for the event.

The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity step team also performed.

The event featured expert testimonials. Paul Siliciano, a professor with the biochemistry department, spoke about the biological processes behind the virus. He discussed the difference between HIV and AIDS, and how the virus runs its course.

Wynfred Russell, a coordinator with the African-American and African studies department, spoke about the effect of HIV and AIDS on life in Africa, including which African communities are most affected.

Siona Nchotu, founder of the Zyombi Project, spoke about being a victim of HIV and AIDS and her life in Cameroon, Africa.

Nelima Kerre, a Raising Awareness for Africa board member and biochemistry senior said, “She didn’t portray herself as a victim and she came across very strong.

“Her message was that ‘life goes on,’ and that life is still worth living, even after infection.”

Treatments for HIV and AIDS are desperately important for the future, some in attendance said.

“We want to create awareness (with this event) to generate support for research here, because Africa does not have the resources to develop drugs by herself,” said David Wilson Jr., a first-year graduate student in the College of Continuing Education.