| Apr 05, 2007


Feature Article - April 5, 2007

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Feature Article - April 5, 2007

A night with Stephen Lewisby SusanStopford

Last week quite a number of local people traveled by car and bus to LaSalle Secondary School in Kingston in order to hear Stephen Lewis speak.

Stephen Lewis is an amazing man. He is 69 years old and is so consumed by his passion that he speaks to a different group in a different city most nights of the week. Stephen Lewis is a man on fire, and his passionate mission is to educate the rest of us about the effect HIV/ AIDS is having on the people of the African continent.

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For five and a half years, until the end of 2006, Mr. Lewis was the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. No one had filled this job before and he was given no real job description, so he went to Africa, from his home in Toronto, to immediately educate himself about the AIDS 'problem'. Many people in this type of job are virtually invisible, little more than paper pushers. Not so this Canadian former leader of the provincial NDP. Stephen Lewis immersed himself in the reality of AIDS in Africa. He got to know the people affected: the dying mothers, the orphaned children, the overburdened grandmothers. He saw the carnage left in AIDS' wake and so his passion was born.

After various introductions were made, none of which seemed all that necessary at the time, Mr. Lewis took the stage and looked out over the large, well-dressed, well-fed, middle-class crowd that had gathered in LaSalle's clean and modern auditorium/gymnasium. He is a medium sized man in an ordinary grey business suit and with his pale skin and fading grey hair almost long enough to be tied back, he'd be easy to overlook. But as soon as Mr. Lewis opened his mouth the magic poured out - magic that only happens when you hear a truly brilliant speaker who is in complete control of his words and who is empowered by his thoughts. He immediately wrapped his listeners in a warm blanket of empathy with his melodious tones and ability to laugh. He seemed to feel no need to lecture his audience; instead he was able to include them while he ranged amiably through various aspects of his life, both personal and political. This is a man with an extremely impressive vocabulary!

Since this "Night With Stephen Lewis" was presented by Limestone District School Board's Parent Council Liaison Committee, Mr. Lewis directed his talk toward the many teachers and parents in the audience. He described talking to the children of Africa, some of the most horribly scarred children in the world. He has spoken to the victims of war, the child soldiers, the child prostitutes, the emotionally disfigured and parent-less victims of AIDS and human strife and asked them "What can we do for you? How can we help?" They always reply that they "want to go to school". It seemed, said Mr. Lewis, that "going to school is a human need that is universal...that all children want to join with their peers; perhaps it gives them hope where none seems to exist".

Mr. Lewis spoke of his frustration at the world's, and particularly the world's governments' inability to listen and habit of turning a blind eye when horrendous things happen in Africa. He encouraged all of his listeners to become engaged and to think globally. He encouraged all the teachers to talk to their students in order to produce a new generation of Canadians who understand issues relating to social justice and global citizenship.

Stephen Lewis has recently been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and is a Companion of the Order of Canada. The Stephen Lewis Foundation was established in 2003 to help "ease the pain of individuals, families and communities struggling with HIV/AIDS in Africa". You can find it at www.stephenlewisfoundation.org.

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