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<I>Averting effects of AIDS</I><BR>Local students work to help orphans in South Africa

LOGICAL FIRST STEP

The Mpumalanga province has the second highest HIV/AIDS population of the South African states within a country that has the largest concentration of AIDS-afflicted people in the world.

Metal-sided zinc homes line South African streets in shanty towns, where poverty and degradation run rampant. HIV/AIDS-infected people receive home-based care and rarely leave their uncomfortable, unsanitary surroundings.

Although the Topsy campus barely makes a dent in caring for Mpumalanga's orphaned AIDS population, it offers the logical first step toward solving the problem.

The Prescott College group's primary goal in the short amount of time allotted to it was to establish a sustainable link between the college and Topsy for future assistance endeavors.

"Topsy responds to a huge crisis in the area," Hockaday said. "Prescott College can offer resources, time, and energy for Topsy."

While in South Africa, the group's women formulated an art room and created project space for it. They also composed a 30-page volunteer manual to give future volunteers direction on what they could do to bolster Topsy's mission.

The manual discusses the importance of nurturing time for orphans, Topsy's schedules for them, South African cultural tips, a small art curriculum that gives advice to various ages, and basic facts and information about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted to reduce fear.

"We talked to Topsy managers about kids not being stimulated enough and that a volunteer program was needed to effectively stimulate them," Hockaday said.

In addition, the women wanted to find a way to maintain the campus' art room and, thereby, continue developing the children's personalities and intelligences through a sustainable, holistic art program that stresses expression through drawing.

"With the money we fund-raised, we left them with paint, paper, art supplies, and a fund to replenish those supplies," said Hockaday, whose group raised $1,000 for the art supply fund.

SHARING EXPERIENCES

Hockaday and her group shot 30 hours of footage while in South Africa, immersing themselves into the society's harsh living conditions.

They interviewed numerous people, including doctors, social workers, teachers, founders of Topsy, and average South Africans on the streets for a film that is being turned into a professional video documentary.

The women will present the finished product the evening of Dec. 8 at the Sam Hill Warehouse, 232 N. Granite St., during a fund-raising event. The presentation will feature stories, dances, photos, video, an art gallery, and crafts from Topsy for sale.

Based on fund-raisers such as these and its contributions to South Africa's orphans, the group concurs that its project was successful.

In fact, it is still raising money for Topsy and encourages donations, which are tax-deductible, for the project. The women believe that the stigma surrounding AIDS must be reduced and that an open dialogue about the progression of the disease must move forward.

"Our main concern was not to just go and leave, but to sustain the program," Hockaday said.

***

Weeks before the documentary viewing, Prescott College's Topsy Foundation Program will hold a benefit concert at the warehouse at 7 p.m. Nov. 15. Proceeds will go to the program, one that sends local college students to South Africa to work with AIDS orphans.

Musical groups, special guests, and surprises will greet the public and students at the door, where admission is $5 per person for the former and $4 apiece for the latter.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com

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