Zambia is one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, but it is also one of the poorest and has one of the world's most devastating HIV and AIDS epidemics. In the village of Zambezi, many of the people lack food to take with their medication, but students at Gonzaga University are working to change that.
Zambezi has a population of about 7,000, similar to Quincy, WA. Now, imagine if 83 percent of Quincy lived in extreme poverty, many of them were positive for HIV/AIDS, and the life expectancy was only 49. That is the reality for the people of Zambezi.
Across the country of Zambia antiretroviral medication is readily available, but the people of Zambezi are too poor to maintain the proper nutrition for the treatments to be effective. The impact goes beyond individual health.
“The affect is so grave that if not attended to the results will be disastrous,” says Alex Kalukangu who runs Network of Zambians Living Positively With HIV/AIDS. NZP+ is a network of support groups in the Zambezi area that helps those living positive with the disease through the repercussions of both their health and the stigma of being HIV positive.
Kalukangu says that taking the drugs after going days with little to no food amplifies which would otherwise be mild side effects.
“The side effects become so severe that they cannot be controlled,” Kalukangu says, going on to describe how one villager had to have a leg amputated due to his body's reaction. As a result of how bad they physically feel, many Zambezi residents don't take the drugs consistently which leads to drug resistance and the development of new HIV strands.
It was this reality that became life changing for Gonzaga student Joe Worthey after a school trip to Zambezi last year.
“The people in Zambia are some of the most compassionate and caring people I've met,” Worthey says, “Everyone wants to know your story.”
This compassion drove Worthey to action. Worthey is a student in the GU Comprehensive Leadership Program, as part of this program students have to complete a legacy project. Legacy projects serve the community, whether locally or abroad, for an extended period and are designed to be continued by incoming students.
Worthey, along with his CLP classmates, Jordan Madrid and Max Baer, wanted to start a new legacy project that would make a lasting change for the people of Zambezi. On his trip Worthey met Kalukangu and together they asked the people what their needs were. The answer was an overwhelming consensus. The people of Zambezi needed food.
Together they created Hope for Zambezi with the goal of addressing both the short and long term food needs. HFZ has teamed up with the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund to raise money to build and stock a chicken coop that would then fund and supply a community food bank.
Creating a sustainable food supply is an urgent issue not only because of HIV/AIDS. Access to food is about to get worse following a long drought across Zambia. Maize crops have been cut in half this year and fuel prices of gone up. This will drive the cost of food higher making it even harder for people living with HIV/AIDS to get proper nutrition. HFZ wants to raise awareness about both issues.
“We want to create more of a communal engagement to show them that we're there for them,” says Madrid. To do this HFZ has brought Kalukangu to Spokane to share both his story and the story of Zambezi.
“Donor support has helped us come back to life,” says Kalukangu, and he goes on to explain that Zambians are extremely grateful for the help they have received from countries like the United States, but the elite have hijacked and taken advantage of the system. Kalukangu says the help is not reaching its intended audience and it's time for a new strategy. Because of this the cycle of HIV/ADIS isn't being broken.
Kalukangu will be speaking tonight at the Community Building in Downtown Spokane as part of a fundraising event for HFZ. After years of global aid support and financing you may be wondering why you should help.
“We are a global community and a global human family and let's not forget that we have obligations to each other,” says Kalukangu, “Please come to our rescue.”