I first got involved with the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) during my undergrad at McGill University. I developed a passion for this organization as I began to realize how much of a crucial role CANFAR plays in the funding for HIV-AIDS research in Canada.
I had always wanted to participate in a trip where I could travel to a foreign country and volunteer, helping people while learning about and delving into a different culture. This trip, organized by CANFAR, brought together students with all different backgrounds and interests who share the common goal of helping communities struggling with HIV-AIDS and learning about the realities of this disease so we can spread our knowledge and experiences to help find a cure.
As a young person who is lucky enough to live in Canada, it is easy for me to overlook the major impact HIV-AIDS has on our world. Canadians often misunderstand or misrepresent HIV-AIDS as a disease that only affects developing countries. CANFAR’s dedication to working with youth helps shed new light on some of the realities of HIV-AIDS in Canada. Youth are one of the most susceptible groups to new cases of infection in Canadian society and we need to keep ourselves informed about this disease. For example, 50 per cent of Grade 9 students in Canada incorrectly believe there is a cure for HIV-AIDS. CANFAR gives us the tools to help each other by spreading our knowledge and giving our time, effort, and money for advancing research. But it has also helped me learn more about the disease globally.
As friends and family visited my fundraising page for the trip to Kenya, they inspired and motivated me through their messages and donations. People expressed their respect for the cause and though, for some of them, this contribution is their first to CANFAR, I’m sure it will not be their last. I am so proud to be helping raise awareness for this matter and I will continue to do so as I complete my JD at the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Law.
Kenya is a beautiful country with a variety of impressive landscapes and wildlife (picture waking up in a tent in the middle of a conservancy to step outside and see zebras, baboons, impala, and warthogs, just to name a few). Kenya has dealt with many conflicts in the recent past and HIV-AIDS continues to be a pressing issue. I am so thrilled to have participated as a small part of making these children’s lives more enjoyable even for a short time.
In Nanyuki, Kenya, myself and the other CANFAR leaders helped repair classrooms, built a toilet, and bonded with the bright and talented students at the Irura Primary School as well as two orphanages in the area. We were also lucky enough to be able to speak with some brave individuals who discussed their HIV experiences with us. Each shared what their HIV-positive status meant in their communities; some were ostracized and shunned. Few received support from their family and friends but we met many HIV-positive people who have banded together to form support groups to help ease the isolation. I hope with increased awareness through organizations such as CANFAR, education, and funds, this stigma will continue to decrease and this disease will be stopped.
Faith Feldman is a second-year law student at the University of Western Ontario. She spent two weeks in Kenya in May on the inaugural trip to the region organized by CANFAR. You can find out more about CANFAR at canfar.com.