By David-Elijah Nahmod, October 2015 Issue.
Out of 2.2 million AIDS-related deaths worldwide in 2013, 1.7 million were in sub-Saharan Africa.
And that’s what took Kirk Baxter, Southwest Center For HIV/AIDS wellness and events specialist, the East African nation of Tanzania earlier this year.
The trip was sponsored by HEAL International, a nonprofit organization that provides health education and health-related support to women and to communities with limited resources.
HEAL (Health, Empowerment And Light) co-founders Dr. Bertram Jacobs and Dr. Damien Salamone were among those who participated in the mission. Both have worked with HEAL organizational partner Support For International Change as trainers for more than a decade.
“Heal is international in scope … We are doing work with at-risk youth in Arizona as well as Tanzania,” said Baxter, who serves as the chair for the organization’s board of directors. “Our primary goal was to meet with Tanzanian leaders and ultimately to open the first HEAL International office there.”
Together, the AIDS activists and educators set out on a humanitarian mission with a message of HIV prevention and good health and a goal of stopping the spread of AIDS.
Tanzania was chosen as the locale for the mission because of the country’s political stability, making it a safer environment for the volunteers to speak about the topic of AIDS.
“What I was totally unprepared for, and totally impacted by, is the scale of the hardship for children in Tanzania,” Salamone said. “Since adults face almost a 50 percent unemployment rate, Tanzanian children are much, much worse off than children in middle and high income countries.”
The group, which included students, professionals and members of the HEAL International team, was welcomed by everyone they met in Tanzania, Baxter said.
“HEAL has done a spectacular job of building trust over the course of a decade,” he said. “Where we needed introductions, we had them from people familiar with our work and guiding philosophies.”
The group’s first meeting was with the country’s Minister of Education.
“We then began meeting with tribal leaders and elders,” Baxter said. “We also met with the director of one of the largest schools we work with, the goal being to build support for the opening of a year-round service center and a shared commitment to the appropriate curriculum for their students.”
From there, Baxter said they were upfront about what would be discussed during education programs.
“Being graphic was not a concern, because we were dealing with messaging that would be appropriate for school-age children and orphans,” he said. “We were speaking to a population that was in the midst of a public health crisis reminiscent of the AIDS experience in our own country during the early ‘80s.”
Baxter also emphasized the importance of listening to what the locals had to say.
“It was important to us to listen first,” he said. “From there we developed consensus and approval. In areas that exceed the mission of HEAL, we made the commitment to find organizations we can partner with on issues like helping to deliver clean water supplies not contaminated by bacteria and parasites.”
This trip culminated with the addition of a new HEAL office in Tanzania.
“What meant the most to me about our recent work in Tanzania is what the opening of our new headquarters means for the children we serve,” Salamone said. “It means attention. It means health. We are committed to working in partnerships with local and regional hospitals to build health capacity.”
The new HEAL center will mean even more than that.
“It means love for children living in poverty without parents,” Salamone continued. “We are there.”
According to Baxter, the new HEAL headquarters is 2,200 square feet on two acres of land at a price that is the equivalent of $400 (U.S. dollars) a month.
For more information on HEAL’s work, in Arizona or Tanzania, visit healinternational.org.