Tshepo – Hope from Brantford to Botswana

The school year may be ending, but Project Empathy is nowhere close to winding down; some of the organization’s busiest times are just ahead.

On February 27, the organization hosted their sixth annual gala fundraising dinner. Laurier Brantford staff and faculty, friends and family of Project Empathy members, and members of the Brantford community, including Brant Member of Parliament Phil McColeman, gathered at the Sherwood Restaurant for dinner, live music, a silent auction, and a preview of the organization’s upcoming activities.

Brantford town crier David McKee opened the evening, encouraging guests to “know ye that your generosity will erase the suffering of a continent.” City Councillor John Bradford, who attended the event on behalf of the mayor, read a proclamation from the City. Bradford told the crowd about his strong connection to the organization. He helped organize Stephen Lewis’ visit to Brantford in 2003, the talk that inspired students to begin Project Empathy. Project Empathy president Danika Kinnear reviewed the organization’s past year, but one of the main goals of the evening was to preview the future.

In May, Lindsey Newton, a third-year concurrent education student, and Jessica McSavage, a second-year concurrent education student, will travel to Botswana on behalf of Project Empathy. While each participant has to raise $500, part of the proceeds from the gala goes towards covering the cost of the trip. This will be the fourth biannual trip; Project Empathy students first travelled to Botswana in 2004.

Every group of students have travelled both to understand the current state of HIV/AIDS in the country, and develop ways to educate Canadians about the disease. Newton and McSavage are hoping to produce an advertisement they can use to raise awareness about the pandemic. Past projects include a documentary, “EMANG – Take a Stand,” where youth and workers in Botswana talk about how HIV/AIDS has impacted their lives. Project Empathy just finished their children’s picture book, Tshepo: One Bear’s Story, which describes how grandparents raise children who’ve lost parents to AIDS through the eyes of donated teddy bear. Tshepo means “hope” in Tswana, Botswana’s official language, and Project Empathy hopes the book will introduce children to global citizenship.

While details about this year’s trip are still being finalized – the organization is waiting to hear back from World University Service of Canada who helps coordinate where they will be working – Newton and McSavage are hoping be involved in education. They aim to live in the city and work in the village, so they can experience as much of Botswana as possible. McSavage, who joined Project Empathy this year, first became interested in HIV/AIDS after watching Bono appear on Oprah. Encouraged by how HIV/AIDS is “One hundred percent preventable” McSavage did projects about HIV/AIDS in high school. But she’s most looking forward to personally connecting with individuals and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS: “[I want to] touch it, feel it, bring it back to others.”

But students don’t have to wait until McSavage and Newton come back to learn about how they can stop HIV/AIDS. On Friday, March 12, Project Empathy will be holding their second annual March in March, a walk through Brantford to raise awareness about the disease. The walk will be followed by an arts and variety show. More information can be found at the organization’s website, www.projectempathyafrica.org.

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