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Renowned Exhibit Comes to Riverside and Brings Transformative Awareness to AIDS Pandemic

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By Derek K. Galloway –

The subject of HIV/AIDS is no longer an unknown phenomenon.

Yet in still, the silence and stigmatism that surrounds this disease continues to heighten the spread of this our deadliest of silent killers. The World Vision Experience: AIDS-Step into Africa exhibit comes to Riverside, California, October 22th through the 25th. This renowned presentation is a multimedia and interactive presentation that brings awareness concerning the plight of children living in Sub Sahara Africa with the AIDS virus.

Alarmingly, it is estimated about 25 million people are infected with HIV (two-thirds of the worlds total).

It is not as much as chance that World Vision is visiting Riverside County as it is necessity.

“Riverside and San Bernardino counties are amongst the highest of HIV and AIDS cases in the nation,” states Fadzai Chihwai. She is an AIDS counselor at Riverside Neighborhood Community Clinic. As an AIDS counselor, Chihwai is a glowing example of the dedication and concern of a generation that hopes to make an impact on this issue.

She has too often seen the shock, fear, and ignorance associated with this illness. Upon taking up an internship with the Riverside Department of Public Health she became compassionate about making a difference. “I find it rewarding if I can inspire one or two people to help someone else,” Chihwai says.

In her quest to tackle this issue through education and awareness, Chihwai would like to dispel misconceptions about this disease as it affects Africa. She continues, “It is unfortunate that many Africans don’t have the resources and education readily available as in the United States. The people there don’t have access to the healthcare, technology, and facilities. For example, in regions of Africa simply getting one condom can cost up to five dollars.”

Such challenges have inspired her to help form a non profit organization called Med Africa. The purpose is to meet the need by sending medical supplies such as Tylenol, IV’s, and Band Aids to her native country of Zimbabwe.

For those who believe the conclusion to Africa’s story has been written off as something unsalvageable, Ange St. Hilaire’s goal is to offer hope as well as participation in fighting this pandemic disease in Africa. Ange St. Hilaire, who is the Tour Communications Manager at World Vision AIDS states, “Our goal is to educate people, as well as getting kids sponsored.”

In advocating on behalf of those that are viewed voiceless and powerless, St. Hilaire sees this mission as her calling. In demeanor, she is very knowledgeable and disarming for someone who has worked in some of Africa’s hardest hit areas. “What attracted me to Africa was my love for the people.

The people are what make Africa beautiful,” she says.

World Vision is a Christian Relief and Development Organization dedicated to helping children in communities worldwide.

Beyond just meeting the financial needs, World Vision is invested in committing their time long term in the villages themselves.

As much as twenty-five years has been invested in the lives of the people in those communities they serve. St. Hilaire says, “Through your sponsorship you can not only assist a child, but help foster a village through educating children and families, building drinking wells, and facilities.

All this can be accomplished through sponsoring a single child.”

Visitors at the World Vision experience: AIDS-Step Into Africa walk through a twenty-five hundred square foot replica and vignette of an African village. In addition, participants are able to experience the effects of the pandemic in a real way through audio tracks and stories. One of the highlights of this event include the lives of four children who have been affected by AIDs. Their names are: Kombo, Babirye, Emmanuel, and Mathabo.

St. Hilaire points out, “While such experiences may be unique to us they are very common in the lives of these children.” In essence, putting the viewer in the lives of these children helps build empathy in those that hold the notion that this dilemma is solely that of the African nation.

The exhibit launched in Fall of 2005, where hundreds and thousands of visitors have gone through the exhibit all across the United States. The prototype experience was featured in the 2006, Global AIDS Conference in Toronto, and was displayed in New York’s Grand Central Terminal in 2006. The exhibited visited an additional seventy-five cities nationwide in 2007 and 2008 and is scheduled to visit forty more in 2009.

This transformative event has received overwhelming response, and continues to enlighten and empower. The event is free and open to the public from Thursday, October 22th through Sunday, October 25th.

The hours of operation are as follows: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except Sunday and October 18th will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The presentation will take place at Grove Community Church, 19900 Grove Community Drive in Riverside, California 92508.

Far too often, this disease has disillusioned the conversation that we are somehow immune from the AIDs virus, or that we are not connected to it globally.

The benefit that this exhibit brings is that we are not powerless in this fight. St. Hilaire reminds us of the hope that exists, “The country of Uganda, which was one of the very first countries to be devastated by the AIDS virus, has now successfully fought back by helping the greater majority of citizens to remain negative in the contraction of the AIDs virus.”

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