By Margarita Poliakov
Stephen Lewis looked out on more than 200 Ryerson students and staff Monday evening and made his message clear: Africa is in a crisis.
“There is no question that the pervasiveness of death is absolutely beyond belief (in Africa),” said Lewis, the UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. “There is a tremendous resilience in Africa. (The communities) will break through if only the Western world would give the assistance which we forever promise and never deliver.”
Lewis spoke in POD 250, which was filled to capacity. About 100 people sat in the ‘overflow’ room and watched Lewis’s lecture on a small television screen. Some were not even allowed to enter due to the size of the audience. Those who made it inside liked what they heard.
“I love listening to (Stephen Lewis) speak,” said Chris Ciosk, a second-year film student. “I think it’s important that we hear somebody who is devoting their life to helping out other people and who is appreciated by this many people.”
Lewis is a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. He also created the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which strives to provide the necessary care Africans who have been affected or are suffering from AIDS/HIV.
His latest book, Race Against Time, outlines many of the issues he addressed in his lecture. He spoke of his frustrations with the broken promises of the west and the UN. “There’s got to be some kind of subterranean racism at work here,” he said. “I don’t understand how you betray promises. A world that has spent over a trillion dollars on (weapons) cannot find an amount to rescue the human condition.”
His message was well received. “It’s amazing that he spoke directly to racism,” Ken Moffatt, a social work professor at Ryerson, said. “His knowledge of Africa was quite incredible. It was emotional, not just intellectual.”
Lewis’s lecture also focussed strongly on the millions of women living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. About 76 per cent of HIV-positive Africans are young women. Women who live to see their grandchildren are often left caring for them, as the child’s parents have died.
He also announced that his foundation will start the “Grandmothers to Grandmothers” campaign. This campaign is meant to unite Canadian grandmothers with African grandmothers. “Grandmothers are extraordinary,” he said.
“Orphans are absorbed by grandmothers. Grandmothers bury their own children and return to parenthood with their grandchildren.”