I was perhaps the only person living in Canada who did not know who Stephen Lewis was. I first heard of him when I went to Uganda, as part of a daring mission to gather positive stories out of a continent often besieged by poverty and political unrest. By the time I arrived in its capital Kampala, Uganda’s growing notoriety on homophobia and albino killings made me doubt if good news even existed in the country.
That was until I saw a sign for Reach Out Mbuya. Reach Out Mbuya is an out-patient HIV centre supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. I could tell you that it provides HIV testing, anti-retroviral drugs and counselling to affected people across Uganda. But the truth is, Reach Out removes the burden of shame and stigma that HIV patients carry and replaces it with hope.
I still remember Justine. When I was told I was going to meet an HIV positive beneficiary of the centre, I expected an emaciated bag of bones waiting to die from AIDs. I was surprised to see a healthy looking mother of 10 who lives and works in Kampala. Indeed, the confidence in her stride and the optimism in her eyes contradicts the stereotypical image of the HIV positive African. Justine is a community activist, an educator, a caregiver to dying patients and the primary provider for an entire family. Thanks to the support she receives from Reach Out, Justine refuses to be ostracized or hampered by her HIV status. She is the epitome of what Reach Out calls ‘Positively living’.
Since 2003, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has funded over 700 initiatives in 15 countries. It has become a lifeline for many grassroots organizations by granting them funds to provide care, education and treatment to people suffering from HIV/AIDS. In May 2011, the foundation organised an AIDS benefit concert called Hope Rising. The concert brought together like-minded philanthropists like Angelique Kidjo, Alicia Keys, K’naan etc. to raise funds for this exceptional organization. My enthusiasm and passion for the work that Stephen Lewis is doing cannot be fully expressed in this brief request. It is for this reason that I hope you wilI visit www.stephenlewisfoundation.com and see how you donate. Here are excerpts of the Hope Rising concert http://youtu.be/CFe5Z1-vzrs