Student Organization Brings Fight Against AIDS to Campus
Haverford students are lending their time and talents to fight one of the world’s deadliest diseases through the AIDS Service Network (ASN), a student-run organization under the umbrella of 8th Dimension, the College’s Office of Community Service. Through volunteer opportunities, special events, and education, members of the ASN are encouraging the Haverford community to join them in combating this worldwide epidemic.
ASN was re-started last year by Claire Fawcett ’06, who went to South Africa in the summer of 2003 to study HIV/AIDS and the government’s response; she interviewed Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), governmental agencies, and HIV-positive citizens. “The prevalence rate there is 25 percent, and seeing so many people affected by the disease had an enormous effect on me,” she says. “I interviewed a priest who was very active in fighting the AIDS crisis in Africa, and he asked me, ‘What are you going to do with all of this?’ I didn’t know.” Upon returning to Haverford, she realized she could more easily deal with domestic AIDS issues than international ones, and heeded a suggestion by Marilou Allen, head of 8th Dimension, to re-generate the ASN.
The initiative attracted students with similar interests in AIDS service. “When I came to Haverford, I saw ASN as an organization with great potential,” says Colin Cahill ’07. “Claire is a very organized and determined leader, and that motivated me to try and do something.”
Before coming to Haverford, Cahill lived in a rural area outside of Philadelphia where, he says, AIDS didn’t seem to exist: “We were taught about it in our health classes and I’d read about it in books and magazines, but it was still a very alien concept.” Now, Cahill is co-head of ASN and volunteers along with other students at ASIAC (AIDS Services in Asian Communities), which provides culturally sensitive and language-appropriate HIV-related services to Philadelphia’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Volunteers are based at ASIAC’s Chinatown office, where they package safe-sex kits containing condoms and multilingual literature about AIDS for future distribution.
Those with time to give can also accompany ASN co-head Kaitlin Decker ’05 on weekly trips to MANNA (Metropolitan AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), where volunteers pack and deliver meals to homebound AIDS patients. More ongoing volunteer opportunities are available at St. Mary’s Family Respite Center, where Claire Fawcett and her fellow students provide day care for children of HIV-positive parents. “The Center picks the children up at 8 a.m. and takes them back to their home at 3 p.m. one day a week so their parents can have a rest,” she explains. “Most of them use this time to go to medical appointments.”
Members of ASN also participate in fundraising activities such as Philadelphia’s popular Gay Bingo, and MANNA’s annual Thanksgiving “Pie in the Sky” bake sale. They assemble groups for the city’s annual AIDS Walk in October. Haverford hosted its first on-campus AIDS Walk last April; organized by Rob Sgobbo ’07 and 8th Dimension, the event raised money for SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States), a nonprofit that develops, collects and disseminates information allowing people to make healthy and responsible sexual choices.
Additionally, ASN is in charge of coordinating activities for AIDS Awareness Week at the end of November, which will include panel discussions on the epidemic in the youth population. The week will coincide with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, when Haverford plans to display panels of the AIDS Quilt in Founders Great Hall.
For some students, ASN will not be their only chance to offer service to AIDS organizations; it is a stepping-stone to future work with the disease and those afflicted by it. Last summer, Kaitlin Decker worked in the community education department of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, developing prevention education and training materials. “I’d like to go back during winter break,” she says. “It’s definitely something I’d like to pursue.”
“I know that I would like to accrue more experiences abroad,” says Colin Cahill, “which could include working with proactive AIDS organizations.”