1,000 Crosses on World AIDS Day

Humanitarian relief for world aids day
World Concern is installing 1,000 crosses to raise awareness on World AIDS Day 2008.

Early this morning, I joined a couple of co-workers for an unusual event in front of World Concern’s international headquarters in Seattle.

Hammering by streetlight, we finished placing 1,000 wooden crosses into the ground, each with a red felt ribbon.

Today is World AIDS Day, a time when the general public joins humanitarians to consider the enormity of the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

5,500 people will die today and another 6,000 will be infected. More than two million people will die this year because of AIDS.

The first 500 crosses went into the ground smoothly Sunday afternoon, then we finished in the darkness Monday morning. Hammering was easy. What’s difficult for me is the realization that 1,000 crosses doesn’t even account for one day of deaths due to AIDS. It’s about the number of deaths in four hours.

World AIDS Day 2008
World Concern staff member Tara Garcia helps install 1,000 crosses for World AIDS Day 2008.

What has surprised me in my research of AIDS is that three out of four people who die from AIDS live in Africa, more specifically, sub-Saharan Africa, which is approximately the southern 3/4 of the continent. In this incredibly poor area of Africa, the rate of HIV/AIDS is often between 10 and 60 times higher than in America. Seven countries have rates over 15 percent. Generations are dying.

I am proud of World Concern’s work with those affected by HIV and AIDS. We provide humanitarian relief for those with HIV and AIDS, as well as others affected by the virus, including AIDS orphans. Since 2004, World Concern touched the lives of more than 150,000 people AIDS orphans, and nearly 40,000 caregivers. Our AIDS work includes the countries of Haiti, Zambia and Kenya.

I hope that the crosses help show the reality of AIDS. It is not something to be ignored. Most importantly, it is something you can help change, but supporting organizations like World Concern that have a direct, positive influence on the lives of poor and desperate people.

Feel free to come by today, if you are in the Seattle area. The display will be up today, and gone tomorrow. Of course, the challenge of HIV and AIDS will remain after World AIDS Day, and for that, we ask the you remember those affected by AIDS year-round.

World Concern is located on the campus of CRISTA ministries. The address: 19303 Fremont Ave. N, Shoreline, WA, 98133.

Here’s how to contact me.

World Concern staff member Derek Sciba helps install 1,000 crosses for World AIDS Day 2008.
World Concern staff member Derek Sciba helps install 1,000 crosses for World AIDS Day 2008.

Humanitarian Journey to Kenya – Day 2 and 3 – Matatu

humanitarian aid and relief kenya
Kenyans walk great distances. I was amazed to see people walking for miles in dress shoes.

Day 2: Nothing much to say about this day, other than it’s not an overwhelmingly pleasant experience to try to sleep on 10 to 12 hour plane flights.

On the plus side, the airlines still have not cut the meals from these trans-continental flights. If they did, I am sure there would be a revolt.

Day 3: Daylight was just beginning to break when we arrived in Kenya. It was cooler than I expected, but still a little muggy. I was surprised to find the jet didn’t pull up to a gate. It just parked in the vast expanse of tarmac, a stairway was pulled up next to the plane, and everybody walked off onto the concrete.

We soon bought our visas, cleared customs and hooked up with Tracy, the knowledgeable outgoing country director for Kenya. She led us to our waiting white van. We met the Kenyan driver, an affable fellow named Gordon. He seemed to know a little bit about everything, including a complete history of giraffes in Kenya.

Gordon, our driver in Kenya. He could handle the rough streets and impossible Nairobi traffic jams.
Gordon, our driver in Kenya. He could handle the rough streets and impossible Nairobi traffic jams.

Once on the road, we saw the many matatus, small buses about the size of a Volkswagen Vanagon, packed full of people. The average matatu has 14 seats; it costs less than a dollar for a trip across town, about four dollars to cities two hours away. While some matatus are in good condition, others look as if they have been in a demolition derby, it seems that all matatus are driven in a very spirited fashion. I would not dare to drive in Kenya and am thankful we had a local at the wheel.

I was also amazed to see how many people walk in Kenya. And there are no sidewalks. People have just have cut paths through the trees, even along on the road leading up to the airport. They cannot afford vehicles, so they’re off on foot or bicycles. And just about everybody’s dressed up. It looks like they are off to job interviews, with polished shoes and briefcases as they walk through the dirt. Still, the unemployment here is significant. The country is one of the poorest in the world.

As we drove, we occasionally saw glimpses of the extreme poverty: fields covered in garbage, rows and rows of shacks with metal roofs and people cooking over campfires. Vendors walk through traffic and sell trinkets and newspapers. After we navigated through a couple of smoggy traffic jams, we got checked into the hotel, a quaint place with a couple of security guards that caters toward Christian relief workers.

Tracy then guided us to see where World Concern’s offices in Kenya, Africa. We met the staff, got a rundown of what World Concern does in Kenya, as well as an overview of all of the operations across Africa. This field office is for all of World Concern’s projects in the continent.

humanitarians in kenya
The Matatu, a common way to get around Kenya. These minivans take humanitarians across town and across the country.

Humanitarian Journey to Kenya – Day 1 – Airport

Silhouette of Kenya Africa
Silhouette of wildebeest at the Masai Mara, Southeast Kenya.

Over the course of several weeks, I will post journal entries from my recent trip to Kenya.

Here is day 1:

Today I packed up my video camera, digital camera and all of the rest of my gear and headed to the airport for the long couple of flights that will lead me to Kenya. I met the other travelers, the people I will get to know very well over the next couple of weeks. I already know Lisa, the guide of the group and my co-worker. She’s a devoted mother of two middle-school-aged boys who occasionally takes these around-the-world trips to show donors or potential donors World Concern’s projects.

At the airport, I met John and Linda, a couple with a background in commercial fishing. John often travels up to Alaska to check out his fishing boats, but neither he nor his wife have been to Africa. John and Linda knew of another member of the trip through businesses connections. Her name is Kari, a sharply dressed Norwegian-born woman whose late husband also was in the commercial fishing business.

I also met Cari and Todd, who have three younger children and a real estate development business. All of those on the trip obviously have some degree of interest in humanitarian aid, helping those in the developing world. We had dinner together, then we were off to our flight to London’s Heathrow airport.

Before we took off, I called my wife, who is six months pregnant with our first child.

World Concern in Kenya
World Concern supporters walking along a road near Karen, Kenya.

The Plan: Plant 1,000 crosses for World AIDS Day

world aids day
World Concern is remembering World AIDS day by displaying 1,000 crosses. It represents the number of worldwide AIDS deaths that occur in just three and a half hours.

It’s rightfully disconcerting to see an enormous pile of white wooden crosses. There are too many to easily count. I had 300 of them in my SUV this morning. It took a couple of people to help me unload them.

World Concern has decided to raise attention to the fact that two million people die each year because of AIDS. Three out of four of those people who die are dirt poor and live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population I’m talking about is diverse. And contrary to what some may believe, it isn’t a “gay disease,” or a disease of drug users. In Sub-Saharan Africa especially, it’s everywhere. It’s an anyone disease.

Anyway, our plan is to plant these crosses in front of World Concern’s international headquarters here in Seattle to raise awareness in our local community. We’re doing it on Dec. 1, on World AIDS Day. We’d also like some news coverage bringing attention to the continuing crisis – and what we’re doing about it.

Big numbers are often difficult to put in perspective. But here’s a glimpse of what we’ve experienced on this project. It’s taken several people a couple of months to create the crosses. At 1,000, we think we have a lot. But really, we don’t have nearly enough.

What amazes me is that the enormous pile accounts for only about four hours worth of AIDS deaths. That’s about the time between when you might get to work – and lunch.

At 1,000 crosses, it’s shocking. Each cross is a human life. A mom, dad, son or daughter. And with the display, we’ll not even able to represent one day. Humanitarian organizations like World Concern are part of the solution. We need your help.

Click here to find a promotional poster for the event and media contact information. World Concern has a variety of projects related to AIDS relief.

18 year old humanitarian saving the world

humanitarian megan edmonds
18-year-old Megan Edmonds helped World Concern raise $7,000 for water wells in Africa.

This past weekend, I met a high school student in Arlington, Washington, who decided that her senior high school project would be to benefit World Concern. Of course, I liked the idea.

What surprised me is the execution of her benefit – and the response of the community. Megan Edmonds had heard about World Concern’s projects to bring clean water into communites through the construction of wells. She saw in World Concern’s Global Gift Guide that $1,400 could finance the construction of one machine-drilled well in a developing country. So that’s what she set out to do. Raise $1,400 and build a well.

But humanitarian Megan accomplished so much more.

Through generous donations from her community, she offered more than 20 auction items. Friends and community members bid on the items during an evening event at a local church. After a short presentation about the value and need for clean water, people generously gave for the cause.

Instead of $1,400, Megan raised more than $7,000. That’s enough for five wells.

I don’t know how many lives will be touched because of Megan’s fundraiser and the generousity of the Arlington community. But to be sure, there are people who will be receiving a clean water for the first time in their lives. They will have a much better chance of taking a drink and not getting an intestinal parasite. Or some other kind of disease. Or just a cup full of muddy water. They will actually enjoy taking a drink.

I am inspired to work harder and help those who do not have the basics of life. I know Megan enjoyed the experience of the fundraiser. And I am sure the donors got a thrill as they took a leap of faith and put their money where their heart is. Best of all, though, it really will do some good.

Thanks, Megan!

Here’s an article about the event in the Everett Herald.