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Eyes on Africa Foundation makes progress

Amanda Gray | Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Eyes on Africa Foundation (EOAF) is bringing into focus its goal of helping the troubled continent by raising donations and starting several new projects, founder and Notre Dame senior Jeff Lakusta said.

“Now, we’ve raised more than $100,000 and taken several groups of volunteers to Africa,” Lakusta said. “We’ll have another trip this summer, and anyone is invited.  Volunteers need to pay their own way — so we don’t take donors money to pay for people’s trips — and it’s a life-changing experience.”

Last year the Foundation helped to provide an HIV testing vehicle to the area outside Cape Town, South Africa. A car dealer donated the vehicle and EOAF helped to renovate it. Etafeni, a community-based care center for AIDS, led a team of nurses who administered the tests.

“Basically, that meant they took their needles and testing supplies in coolers, with tents on their back, and tested anyone who walked by,” Lakusta said. “The problems were both evident and more intricate — not many people are willing to get tested so overtly, because of the stigma associated with the disease. But there were also sanitation problems, privacy issues, safety concerns, and simple weather and timing constraints.

“When EOAF returned this past summer, we got the data from our caravan and learned that we’d raised the amount of people being tested by over 700 percent.”

Following a trip to Africa to study AIDS prevention and the stigma associated with the disease, Lakusta founded Eyes on Africa the summer after his freshman year.

“There are some really crazy stories of people coming out of the woodwork to help out, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “The real purpose of Eyes on Africa is not only to support organizations in Africa, but to show people that making a difference isn’t as hard as it seems.”

The organization is also raising funds to provide jobs for HIV-positive women by building a group based on the Etafeni organization, Lakusta said.

“It’s a great, community-based model we think is a unique solution to some of the problems faced by so many,” Lakusta said. “If we can raise $5,000 we’ll provide the initial resources they need to start the project.”

He also said volunteers are crucial for the Foundation’s continued success.

“We have a lot of great projects coming up, and I’m excited about the possibilities for our future, but without the continued, growing support of ‘strangers,’ we’ll quickly reach our ceiling,” Lakusta said. “With the combined help of people interested in starting their own projects in Africa through EOAF, or those wanting to support the projects we’ve already started, the possibilities are limitless.”

Lakusta said the more fortunate have a responsibility to help those in need.

“We aren’t as separated from each other as we think, and to turn away from the needs of most of the world is just plain wrong,” he said. “We owe it to ourselves to offer what we have to lift up others.”

If anyone is interested in the organization, go to www.eyesonafricafoundation.org or e-mail Lakusta at jlakusta@eyesonafricafoundation.org