Let me tell you a story.
In early 2012, I was given an opportunity to visit a youth club in Embu, Kenya, one of the many hundreds of youth clubs that DSW has helped establish across Eastern Africa. Due to my work in communications, I was eager to try to engage with the youth there and to hear about how the club had affected their lives. This was a big deal for me and, as it turned out, for the youth who happily lined up to tell me their stories! While chatting with one club member, she told me about her volunteer work in a local community school that helped orphan and vulnerable children from the slum areas in Embu. She asked me if I would like to visit the school and learn more about the children there. I agreed and few minutes later, we both set off on a journey that would leave a lasting impression on me.
As it turned out, over 50 percent of the children in school were infected. In George’s case, his father had abandoned the family and his mother was in the final stages of the virus.
Upon arrival I was led into a simple wooden shack where twenty or so children sat quietly behind their desks, gazing at me with intent curiosity. Unsure of what to do, I smiled and waved at them which resulted in a few giggles. Then one boy stood up and approached me.
With a huge smile he said hello and shook my hand. Beaming with pride, the teacher told me his name was George and that he was top of his class. Then she told me that George was HIV positive. She showed me the sores that ran along his legs, arms, and ears. As it turned out, over 50 percent of the children in school were infected. In George’s case, his father had abandoned the family and his mother was in the final stages of the virus. With no one else to turn to, the school and the teachers were the only support that George had. When he wasn’t at school, George had to fend for himself as his mother was too weak to leave the house. I didn’t ask his age but it seemed to me that George could not have been more than seven years old.
Although this story has the potential to be depressing, it reminds me that hope exists and that real change is possible if we want it. Sometimes this change happens like a speeding train, as in the incredible outpouring of support shown by the international community at the London Summit on Family Planning, or it can be largely invisible to the public eye, as in the case of George. Without the efforts of the club members, the teachers, and the donations of food from the local community, George’s prospects would have been grim at best. Now he has a chance for life.
But we can do more.
This year the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced a replenishment goal of 15 billion US-dollars in the fight against these terrible diseases. In an age of austerity this will require new thinking in the form of firm commitments from global donors. It will involve increases in budget spending, both from traditional donors in the north, but also clear commitments in domestic health spending by those countries worst affected by these diseases.
Now that the US has pledged five billion US-dollars over the coming three years, the onus is now on other donors to commit to fulfilling the remaining 10 billion needed to save millions of lives worldwide. This should become a discussion priority during the meeting with President Barack Obama and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin this week, especially since Germany’s contributions of 200 million euros to the Global Fund have not increased since 2008. With so much at stake the time for leadership is now.
It is also important that the G8 leaders meeting on June 17th and 18th keep in mind that their actions and decisions have the potential to greatly affect the livelihoods of people living in abstract poverty across the world. Issues such as gender equality, youth employment, access to healthcare and education are not just political buzzwords – they have real consequences for people like George.
Now is the time to act. Now is the time to make a change.