Categorized | Society

Love, Laughter and Peace – Not AIDS

Posted on 24 July 2013 by admin

Nafeesa Jalal

Cape Town

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

As I stand in theOttawaAirportcarrying extremely overweight suitcases, it finally hits me that I am leaving. Leaving home, my family, friends, colleagues and my best friend who I married only two months ago. I feel morose because I barely reflected on my decision; lengthy visa procedures, packing and training sessions kept me occupied.


I am headed toCape Town,South Africato work on a remarkable HIV/AIDS research project with the very historic and reputableUniversityofWestern Cape, at theirSchoolofPublic Health.


HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low and middle-income countries. 35 million people live with HIV worldwide, and over 25 million people have died of HIV to date. These statistics are difficult to fathom


When I was offered this 6-month position, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and implemented by the Ottawa-based Human Rights Internet organization (HRI), I quickly accepted. I have always worked in international development and am pursuing a doctorate degree in maternal health in ruralBangladesh.


When an opportunity arises where I am potentially able to make a difference in an undeveloped society or work in a role which may benefit deserving people in the commonly termed ‘Third World’, I take it. It is not only my career, but my passion to try to bring positive change to causes and people who can benefit from my experience and education. It is a passion which is challenging at times, yet one I happily pursue with no regrets, and a sense of gratitude for each opportunity which comes my way.


I am flying out on Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. By the South African Airways counter, I see a lady giving out pieces of paper to each passenger. As Mandela has given 67 years of his life to service, she explains that we are each to commit 67 minutes giving back to a community service activity of our choice. I go right away and write my intentions down. There are many others around the counter, excitedly writing down their commitments. She gives each of us a sticker which states “Take Action, Inspire Change” to help us remember this important day. I stick mine on my laptop, to remember it daily.


Mandela may have started off being South Africa’s most recognized leader, but today he is a man who is loved and admired by the world for all he has done for peace, equality and justice. I reflect on his very ill health, and realize that this may end up being one of his last birthdays. He once said “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” I strive to live by these words, and hope that I can always live life to the fullest like he has.


As I look around me here at the airport, I see privileged people with privileged lives. I realize I am one of them. I have everything that matters and much more; where I am headed to, the vast majority of people do not. Based inCanada, I often forget how much I have and still want, but yet how little is needed to live sufficiently and be happy. It is only when I leave my comfort zone and life of privilege that I realize what the world looks like for the vast majority of its people. This brings me a sense of gratitude and appreciation, and compels me to do more for those who have so less. It is a feeling I cannot put into words, but one I wish for you all to experience.


If you ever want to work overseas or be involved with global causes from here in Canada, do it now. We Canadians are in a position to do a great deal for parts of the world who could use our support and yet we often shy away because we are too focused on our individual lives, responsibilities and prefer a life of comfort. No matter how much or little we are able to do, let us do it.

When you are reading this, I will likely have reachedSouth Africa. I have little idea of what the next 6 months of my life will hold. I only pray for good health and safety and the rest I will deal with one day at a time. While I go to work on such an important cause, I aim to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS and share my experience with others. We must understand the world’s leading infectious diseases and the millions of faces behind them if we are to promote prevention, awareness, treatments and change.


“Give a child love, laughter and peace, not AIDS” said Nelson Mandela. As I get on the plane, leaving behind my loved ones at the airport, I plan to do just that.

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