National campaign challenges Canadians to dare for AIDS in Africa

Students at the University of Manitoba are joining a nationwide challenge working to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation launched their “A Dare to Remember” campaign on Oct.19, inviting all Canadians to mobilize their communities to help fight the AIDS pandemic.

The campaign challenges Canadians to face their fears by performing a dare, daring someone or sponsoring a dare as an act of solidarity. According to the campaign, the premise is to remember those in Africa who are fighting AIDS through acts of courage, ingenuity, determination and strength in community.

The foundation kicked off the campaign for the first time last year.

“Essentially a dare can be a variety of things, it can be bold, it can be courageous; [ . . . ] it can be something that really just takes a lot within you to be able to do,” said Julie Rempel, a U of M representative for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

“It’s tying the bond with what a lot of individuals, children, women, and grandmas are faced with in different parts of Africa [ . . . ] and building a connection amongst different countries,” said Rempel.

Kristin Roe, a Dare organizer and the foundation’s lead community mobilizer, said the response to the campaign has been overwhelming. However, she said the momentum is just starting to pick up.

“Yesterday and today have been very exciting because we’ve been hearing what communities have been doing across the country, [ . . . ] everything from the wild and wacky [ . . . ] to people who are starting their training for their runs, to people that are announcing that they are going to shave their heads if they raise $1,000,” she said.

Roe said the support is inspiring, especially for those who have been working long hours on the campaign. She said the idea for the campaign came about after staff and supporters of the foundation got together in order to create a campaign that could resonate with Canadians of all ages.

“I think the dare campaign is flexible. It allows for any age, any demographic, anywhere around the country and with whatever kind of ability. [ . . . ] People are able to do it with whatever means they have and I think that’s what really works with the Dare campaign,” she said.

“It’s an act of solidarity and it gets people engaged with the cause as well,” said Roe.

Roe herself participated in the campaign this past summer by swimming the length of the English Channel in a matter of 16 hours to raise money for the foundation.

Roe says staff members at the foundation are also taking on their own dares. Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, daughter of Lewis and the foundation’s executive director, plans to weight lift in high heels.

Last year, Stephen Lewis sang with Canadian rock band Arkells live on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos.

Roe said there are four easy steps to doing a dare. First, a dare has to be chosen. Next it has to be announced and promoted. The last step is fundraising and following through with your dare.

Rempel said she is currently brainstorming her dare, but is set on doing something unique. She is also devising a dare for UMSU president Heather Laube.

Olukayode Adekoya, a U of M student and campaign supporter, said he thinks it is important for people to go out of their way with their dares.

“Chances are you will reach out to more people like that and you will also inspire people to want to do the same,” he said.

The campaign will continue until World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. The goal is to raise between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Funds from A Dare to Remember will go towards grassroots groups in Africa, who are working to support their communities through education and prevention strategies, in addition to caring for the sick.

Roe said that this method of allocating funds allows for community organizations on the continent to be the experts.

“It’s not us telling people how to be doing things, it’s the community organizers, the grandmothers, the women, the young adults [ . . . ] living on the front lines of the pandemic each and every day,” she said.

Rempel says by giving money directly to the community organizations themselves, it ensures that it won’t be deterred by cultural barriers.

“It makes a big difference to fund an organization that’s already established in these countries because they have an understanding of the culture, of the people and of the communities,” said Rempel.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation was started in 2003 by Stephen Lewis himself, who served a term as the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Roe said the organization originally had the goal to fund a few projects on the African continent, but grew quickly after being overwhelmed with the Canadian generosity.

“The foundation has significantly grown and we now fund over 300 projects in over 15 countries in Africa,” said Roe.

According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, there are currently 33.4 million people living with HIV worldwide, two-thirds of which live in Sub-Saharan Africa.