Examining AIDS in Africa
Kadidiatou “Kadi” Magassa had never heard of the country of Lesotho until this past year, but she will know it well before the summer is over.
Magassa, who recently completed her first year at Southwestern, will be observing at an AIDS clinic in Lesotho this summer. The clinic is run by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston as part of its Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative.
Lesotho is a small country of about 2 million people that is surrounded by the eastern portion of South Africa. It is often referred to as “The Kingdom in the Sky” because the entire country lies above 4,593 feet in elevation.
Lesotho is also home to a ravaging epidemic of AIDS. A 2007 report published by the CIA estimated that 23.2 percent of the country’s population has HIV/AIDS – the third highest in the world after Swaziland and Botswana. The CIA’s World Factbook says the average life expectancy in Lesotho is 41.18 for men and 39.54 for women.
Magassa’s trip to Lesotho this summer is the result of three years of fundraising by the student group EBONY, a local civic organization and several local churches.
Chrystle Swain, the wife of Southwestern employee Ron Swain, suggested to EBONY four years ago that it should send a student to Lesotho after she heard a presentation about the country’s AIDS epidemic at a meeting of a service-oriented group she is involved with called The Links, Incorporated. Swain has been interested in AIDS since a friend of hers lost a son to the disease in the 1980s.
The Baylor program is typically reserved for medical students and residents, but Southwestern received permission in 2007 to have an undergraduate participate in it because of a sister cities program between Austin and Maseru that is sponsored by the Austin Links Chapter.
Ebony has held several fundraisers to support the $3,600 cost of Magassa’s trip and The Links Foundation is also paying for a portion of the trip. Two local churches – First United Methodist Church and St. Helen Catholic Church – donated $500 each and several faculty members contributed as well.
“It is truly heartwarming to know that something that was started several years ago is now able to come to fruition,” said former EBONY President LaToya Alexander. “I am proud to know that through that same type of cohesiveness and togetherness, we are now able to send a student abroad to help the global community. I am thankful that the students of EBONY have been able to continue to work with The Links Foundation and Baylor College of Medicine to make sure we continue to help those in need.”
Magassa leaves for Lesotho June 15 and will be there through July 27. The clinic she will be working in is in the country’s capital, Maseru. It serves children from newborns to age 18.
Magassa, who recently completed her first year at Southwestern, is studying history but plans to develop an independent major that will focus on international studies with a concentration on Africa. Her career goal is to work in Africa to help the continent solve problems such as AIDS and government corruption.
“This will be the first step toward working in the field I want to be in,” Magassa said.
While she is in Lesotho, Magassa plans to gather video footage that can be used in that country and the United States to educate people about AIDS. She has already been involved in AIDS prevention efforts in Harlem, where she grew up, and has worked on several video projects as well.
This will be Magassa’s fourth trip to Africa. She has been there twice to visit relatives in Mali, and another time on a trip to Senegal sponsored by the Harlem Children’s Home.
Swain has arranged for Magassa to speak via Skype to The Links national conference that will be held in Detroit June 30-July 4. She also will speak at local meetings of The Links when she returns to Texas.
Swain said she hopes more students from Southwestern will be able to go to Lesotho in the future.