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World AIDS Week offers free testing

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, November 29, 2007

A tree wrapped with 8,500 ribbons to represent the number of people who die every day from AIDS stands outside of DeBartolo Hall as one part of a weeklong project to raise money for and awareness of the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

The Center for Social Concerns is behind the project, which ends with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

Senior Teresa Hancock, who co-chaired the project with senior Erin Greenberg, hopes to “raise awareness and get [students] to really think about the issues and relate them to their own lives and their own situations.”

The week began with the sale of red shirts in the dining halls to create unity among students.

“The main incentive has been our theme: ‘Live solidarity, keep the promise,'” Hancock said. “We are trying to push solidarity and inspire students to show support by wearing the shirts.”

The sale from the shirts sponsors a children’s choir from Watoto, a village in Uganda with 1,500 children who have been orphaned because of AIDS. A select number of children in the village are able to form a choir and tour for six months.

They gave a concert at Notre Dame Wednesday and collected donations.

“The donations and shirt sales goes toward a program in Uganda that houses the orphans, and gives them food and an education,” Hancock said. “These are kids that come from nothing, and our goal is to raise $2,500 to send back with the choir.”

While it addresses the global AIDS problem, World AIDS Week also approaches the AIDS epidemic on a more local scale.

“AIDS affects young people from the ages of 18-24 in huge numbers more than ever,” Hancock said. “That’s our age. It really does affect everyone. It doesn’t discriminate.”

Hancock, along with her task force, enabled free HIV testing on campus for the first time.

“This is something I have been really passionate about getting because there is such a stigma about testing. People think, why do we need it here? But the reality is that some are at risk. It does affect everyone,” she said.

AIDS Ministry and AIDS Assist of South Bend, a non-profit organization that helps people with AIDS, will provide free testing today from 6 p.m to 8 in the Health Center, Saint Liam Hall.

The week ends Saturday with a panel discussion between two South Bend residents with HIV and two Notre Dame students who have worked closely with AIDS.

“This is to show how closely it hits home,” Hancock said.

Hancock said the week has already inspired responses, “both positive and negative,” from the Notre Dame community.

“We had a really good response tonight at the concert, and we had a good response at the testing [Tuesday], but people still feel uncomfortable coming,” she said.

Hancock said she believes AIDS is “the modern day leprosy.”

“The thing that separates it from something like cancer is that people blame the victims, and therefore they suffer on both ends,” she said. “They have no support and they are physically suffering.”

However, Hancock’s goal this week is to change that attitude.

“I hope the Notre Dame students will realize that there are things we can do to fight AIDS,” she said. “There are treatments, but no cure, and the numbers are increasing. No one is immune.”