FACE AIDS, a student organization that has already raised more than half a million dollars for Partners In Health, is expanding its support to work directly on projects that will create incomes for our patients in Rwanda. Katie Bollbach, one of the three founders of FACE AIDS, stopped off in Boston on her way to Rwanda in July to brief PIH staff on what has been accomplished and where they hope to go from here. She said FACE AIDS is “so excited to be working with Partners In Health in Rwanda this year. Your mission-driven work has inspired us for years and so it’s an honor to be able to get to work alongside you.”
Katie will be staying at our Kirehe site in Rwanda for the next eight months. There she will set up small income-generating projects. In the beginning she will work with people from three or four local AIDS associations to make AIDS-awareness pins that will be sold in the U.S. The initial group will include about 40 people, some of whom are patients at the clinic in Kirehe.
The pin program, however, is just a launching pad for creating a variety of sources of income for people in Kirehe. Katie hopes to set up microfinance programs, help acquire small loans and grants for members of the associations, and coordinate trainings in conjunction with organizations such as Opportunity International to provide people with more extensive job support.
The pin program also serves as a source of fundraising for PIH and a way to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Melissa Gillooly, PIH's Rwanda Project Manager, says of FACE AIDS, “They are student-started and student-run and they have really shown what a committed group of students can achieve. The amount of knowledge and excitement they have acquired to pass along to other students is incredible. We’re very lucky that they’ve chosen PIH and we’ve learned many skills from them on how to engage students.”
As part of its campaign to raise $1 million for PIH, FACE AIDS sells the AIDS pins and gets matching donations from businesses, including the investment firm, Sterling Stamos, and the designer company, Liz Claiborne. The projects Katie will launch in Kirehe are based on work she and her fellow students started in refugee camps in Zambia.
Katie, and two other Stanford students, Jonny Dorsey and Lauren Young, went to work in the summer of 2005 for an organization called FORGE (Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment) in a refugee camp in Zambia. It was there that these three students came face to face with AIDS.
They met Mama Katele, an HIV-positive woman and the only person in the camp of 24,000 refugees who was willing to talk openly about her HIV status. Their friendship changed the face of their work in Zambia and their lives in the years to come. They had come to Zambia to work on several development projects—literacy, female empowerment, and orphan care. They soon discovered that AIDS affected all these areas. If they wanted to do effective development work, they would have to tackle HIV.
They took off time from their studies the following year to launch an ambitious two-pronged effort – to give their friends in Zambia a source of income and, at the same time, to raise money to make care and treatment available for AIDS patients throughout Africa. They had the idea of making AIDS-awareness pins because it was something that even people like Mama Katele, who had advanced AIDS and was already very weak, could still do. They expanded this work to two other refugee camps and surrounding communities.
Realizing the limitations of this type of income-generating activity, they also created training programs to help people start new businesses. This effort was financed with money the Zambian group had saved from making the pins. Katie was in charge of work on the ground in Zambia, while Jonny and Lauren took care of mobilizing students back home to deal with the other sides of their ambitious project: fundraising and awareness.
The organization has now spread to 110 schools—both universities and high schools—around the United States, all helping to raise money and commitment to battle HIV/AIDS. As Ed Cardoza, PIH’s Director of Development, says, “FACE AIDS has engaged students, has put a practical spin on what we can do, and what schools and communities can do” to help fight AIDS in Africa.
When asked what had surprised her most in working with FACE AIDS, Katie said “the whole thing—how successful and how quickly everything has happened. Just by word of mouth we’re helping to mobilize a whole generation of people to tackle AIDS. What began from just wanting to help some women in Zambia earn an income has turn into something much larger.”
For more information about FACE AIDS and how you can help, visit http://www.faceaids.org.
[published July 2007]