Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Raise money for AIDS by going out on a limb

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If the thought of busking on a busy street corner, bungee-jumping over a waterfall or performing as a standup comedy neophyte makes you weak at the knees, it might be the perfect way to fundraise for AIDS in Africa.

What are you, chicken? Come on -- Stephen Lewis dares you.

The diplomat and politician's titular foundation is launching a new fundraising effort, and Lewis hopes 'A Dare to Remember' spurs Canadians to choose their own challenges to raise money for those hit hardest by HIV/AIDS.

"You can choose something yourself that you want to do as a dare, or friends can dare you to do something," says Lewis, a global health professor at McMaster University who's served as Canada's United Nations ambassador and as a UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Participants can sign up at www.adaretoremember.com, and act out their dares from Oct. 17-25. Some people are already profiled, like a woman who plans to bungee jump over Victoria Falls in Zambia and another who aims to give up her car for a week.

A number of Canadian celebrities are on board, like musician k-os, who plans to work a shift in the toy section of the department store that gave him his first job. Celebs including Canadian Idol judge Jake Gold and actors Natalie Brown and Ngozi Paul have yet to declare their dares, and others haven't been announced yet.

Politicians aren't exempt: NDP leader Jack Layton has agreed to try his hand as a street performer, Lewis says.

As for Lewis, he'll pick a dare based on suggestions from Canadians, which so far include singing the national anthem at a Toronto Blue Jays' game.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation supports community groups dealing with the effects of HIV/AIDS in Africa in areas including education, health care, counselling and child care. The foundation helps around 200,000 orphans in 15 countries, says Lewis, covering costs of schooling, food and other necessities. He hopes to raise the number to one million kids in the next five years, and raise $100 million in the process.

International AIDS funding is declining and tends to focus on important but big-ticket items, like drugs and major prevention campaigns, says Lewis. Community-based projects get less attention and the foundation wants to fill that need.

"At the grassroots, in communities, on the ground, you can really begin to turn the tide of the pandemic," he says.

Lewis recently spent a month in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, checking out foundation-funded projects, meeting with women's activist groups and learning about the threat of sexual violence in spreading the virus. He says he's hopeful over rising AIDS awareness and greater access to treatment, but disturbed by still-high death rates and rates of infection among young people.

"The virus is still outstripping our capacity to respond," he says, pointing to the "tremendous struggle on the ground" to deal with the issue.

"The legacy of orphans, the vulnerability of grandmothers strikes you forcefully, time and time again."

lindsey.wiebe@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2009 C7

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