Looking For Spirituality in an AIDS-ravaged world

    The compound of tents on Library Walk stretching out in front of Price Center lawn was difficult to miss, as was the sea of students wearing orange shirts with “”Orphan”” emblazoned in bold white letters on Oct. 25. Maybe it was the prints of children or quotations from celebrities and world leaders that tipped off most students to something happening on Library Walk. The tent, quotations and shirts were all part of the immersive Impact1 experience, executed by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus, to raise awareness for AIDS in Africa through constant access to information and life stories of those affected by HIV.

    Will Parson/Guardian
    Top: Exterior of the Impact1 tent, which operated on Library Walk. Below: InterVarsity students attempt to provide spiritual counseling to those who experienced the tent. Next: Azusa Pacific alum Jessica Jones contemplates pictures of AIDS victims in Africa. Next: Murals and statistics put on by the Impact1 program turn heads on Library Walk.

    Jesse Jacobs, campus staff adviser for InterVarsity and the person in charge of running the tent all week, explained the goal of the program.

    “”We wanted to raise awareness, but go beyond awareness practically and spiritually,”” Jacobs said. “”We wanted to challenge the campus to consider the spiritual significance of poverty and injustice in the world.””

    While the spiritual significance of the Impact1 program cannot be easily assessed, the practical awareness discussed by Jacobs is measured in tangible benefits: money raised during the week by InterVarsity, children who obtained sponsors and public exposure for 40 different organizations that handle problems associated with AIDS. InterVarsity worked with its sponsor World-Vision, an organization that works to better the living conditions of children around the world and has recently begun to focus on the nation of Malawi, to employ the program. The money raised during Impact1 is slated to go to a health clinic in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries. According to Jacobs, there are 12 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa, and unlike individuals affected by HIV and AIDS in America, those in Malawi don’t have many choices in dealing with their situation.

    Each shirt InterVarsity handed out was supposed to be accompanied by a brochure that helped explain the goal of the program. However, not enough brochures were made to meet the overwhelming demand from students and many shirts were distributed without them.

    Even without the accompanying pamphlets, the shirts began a grass-roots campaign to publicize the tent that was scheduled to appear on campus. The long corridor entrance to the tent stood on Library Walk, marked by burlap cloth on which quotations and pictures of children had been painted. The tent was operated by volunteers for 24 hours a day, which allowed students to experience the life of children affected by the HIV epidemic no matter the time.

    Before coming to UCSD, the tent had been hosted by Southwestern College, Mira Costa College and Cal State San Marcos. After UCSD, the University of Southern California and San Diego State University are slated to host the tent. InterVarsity fundraised to pay for the expenses of the tent.

    One of the members of the InterVarsity Campus Team Ministry, Tyler Allred, was excited by the reaction of UCSD students, denizens of a stereotypically apathetic school.

    “”I was surprised at how many people came, especially at two in the morning, three in the morning,”” Allred said. InterVarsity estimated that 5,000 people walked through the display. The stories in the tent, called lifelines, featured both children infected with HIV as well as those affected by AIDS. The children featured in the tent were real children with real stories, some of whom are still alive. Olivia, a 17-year-old Malawian girl, was raped twice by the same man. Another story was that of Beatrice, a 7-year-old Zambian girl who took over care of her sister’s infant daughter, although both had recently been orphaned.

    The heart-wrenching issue has evoked some conflict over methods of activism.

    Fundraising concerns were voiced by a Facebook group formed to express opposition to the Impact1 program and critique the use of $70,000 in the construction of the tent. Critics contended that that much money is squandered on projects like Impact1, when it might have had a more immediate effect as aid given directly to AIDS victims. Jacobs responded to the critique with a hope for the future.

    “”[The] $70,000 is insignificant when compared to the 5,000 students that went through the tent,”” he said. “”If we can at least impact one student, it’s worth the $70,000.”” He went on to describe the possibility that students on campus will be in positions to make a change in the AIDS pandemic and the Impact1 program may inform their decision to help.

    Another concern regarded the second element used to go beyond awareness – spirituality. Jacobs explained the intentional design of the tents.

    “”We really tried to not do a bait-and-switch,”” he said. “”We had a pre-tent that explained what the experience would be like … we had a process to help the students understand the experience they were stepping into.””

    Allred echoed Jacobs’ intent. “”We tried our best to make sure everyone knew exactly what they were getting into,”” Allred said. “”There were some negative reactions. Any negativity that was there wasn’t much, but the people that were against it were the people that were against us bringing up spirituality.””

    There is no argument, however, that Impact1 was unabashedly spiritual. InterVarsity makes a strong connection between the issues of today and a spiritual answer. “”We view the problems of the world, you have a spiritual aspect, spiritual reality underlying everything,”” Allred said. “”So there is a spiritual solution to the problem [of AIDS].””

    As part of the program, Impact1 held a conference at Price Center on Nov. 4 from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. It aimed to educate students on how to be part of a practical and spiritual solution.

    “”The conference is going to challenge students in two ways; in faith and practical action,”” Jacobs said. Two main seminars composed the conference, as well as smaller ones with themes such as “”Jesus, Justice and Poverty.”” It also featured seminars that focused on nonspiritual issues such as the biology of AIDS, and a fair featuring many volunteer organizations. The speakers included UCSD professors who are experts on AIDS issues.

    With such a charged subject, the statistics often tell a story of their own. At the end of one week, 80 children received sponsors, 5,000 people walked through the tent and saw stories of those affected by AIDS and money was raised to fund a health care center in the village of Nkoma. The exact count was not known at press time, but Jacobs expressed satisfaction at the funds raised, and on the overall success of the effort.

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