International Studies Student to Fight Aids in Africa
|Written by Ashley Wutzke|
|Thursday, 23 March 2006|
|It is estimated that there were approximately five million new cases of HIV infection in 2004—about 650,000 of them children. In some African countries, such as Botswana and Swaziland, almost 40 per cent of the population live with HIV/AIDS. |
Although these numbers are truly horrifying, there is a lot being done to turn things around. Stopping the spread of AIDS and reversing this current trend is one of the many goals of the Uniterra organization. Each year, Uniterra selects 20 students from a group of 100 applicants from across Canada to travel to Botswana and participate in a six-week internship on HIV/AIDS in the Southern African country.
This year Kelly Rapko, a fourth-year student here at the University of Saskatchewan, has been accepted as one of the 20 students to participate in the internship. Students are evaluated on the basis of academic excellence, community leadership, and demonstrated commitment to international understanding. Rapko is completing an undergraduate degree in International Development and said that although he has always been concerned with social justice on a local level, three years of living overseas allowed him to gain new insight into international development issues, cementing his decision to pursue it as a career.
“I didn’t have any big city experience before traveling, coming from a small town Prince Albert. [I noticed that] the poverty issues in the developed world are bad enough, and [traveling] sparked my interest in poverty in developing nations.”
Rapko has been a World University Services of Canada (WUSC) member for three years and is currently the co-chair of the U of S campuses extension. He is also the president of the International Studies Student Association.
WUSC primary goal is to promote international development overseas and raise awareness in and around campus. Its main initiative is the student refugee program. For each full time student on campus, three dollars of their student fees go to WUSC, allowing the organization to bring three refugees students to Canada. These refugees become landed immigrants, and are given a house, clothes, books, and tuition for their first year in Canada to get them started.
“It’s really rewarding,” commented Rapko. “The only real first hand knowledge we have about refugees comes from those students. I think we learn more from them then they are learning from us.”
Rapko’s decision to apply for the internship came from spending the last four years reading about Africa and taking other people’s opinions about it for granted without actually getting first hand experience. That is Rapko’s goal, to gain first hand experience in the developing of South Africa in regards to AIDS.
“The experience will shape my education and so much more… my outlook on life.”
While Rapko is in Botswana, he will be paired with a local student and will volunteer with a local organization that focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Rapko is particularly interested in learning more about the politics of HIV/AIDS.
“To understand the issues involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, first you have to understand why certain decisions are made, because the reasons may not always be as straightforward as they seem,” he said. “I’m excited to learn more about how Botswana’s government and communities work to defeat this disease, both within their own borders and in collaboration with the international community.”
Rapko feels that the solution to the AIDS problem lies in empowering locals rather then having developed countries send money.
“We have to develop leaders in the community to develop community programs to educate their people.”
The program was originally established by WUSC in 1948, and is delivered through Uniterra, a joint program of WUSC and the Canadian Centre for International Studies and Co-operation. The partners of Uniterra through their many programs, mobilize people and organization in Canada and the developing world to reduce poverty through the achievement of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Uniterra is especially committed to the fight against AIDS through numerous channels that aim to strengthen community associations, put in place awareness and education programs, and foster co-operation between local and national health partners.
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