Well, I am one of the founding members, and the chairman is actually Ambassador Joseph Huggins, who is actually the former US Ambassador to Botswana, and the founder of the Foundation. The Foundation was started in 2002, as a result of seeing other foundations that would take donations and use it mostly for office work and their staff, rather than for the community programs in the countries that they serve. As a result of that, I and the Ambassador Joseph Huggins, who had just returned from Botswana, and we sat together and decided we wanted to create a foundation that, first of all, dedicate 100% of its donations into the community. Second, all of us are volunteers – nobody gets paid. Everything we do – no money we get for our work comes out of the donations. We decided we wanted to do something different with our foundation, and our goals were entrepreneurship – to teach young people how to make money for themselves, leadership – actually showing them that they had in themselves what they needed for their future, and community service – to actually show them that they can do things, and that in order to actually be a leader, and to be an entrepreneur, you have to do things for others. So our foundation is based on the quote from Hillel – “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now, then when?”.
Q2. You work extensively with Sahara, which works to treat people with HIV/AIDS. In countries like Kenya, stigma keeps the Asian community from seeking treatment. What can be done to eradicate this stigma?
Well I’d like to say that the stigma with HIV/AIDS has been there from the very beginning, from when I started working with what was called the HTLV-3 virus back in 1982, when it was called the “gay White man’s disease”. Back then, people didn’t know why I wanted to work with them because I’m neither gay nor I white man, and it supposedly didn’t affect me. It was a matter of “those people” having the disease. And then it became a “Haitian disease”, and now 28 years later, it’s older people over 65, who make up the largest percentage of HIV-infected people. People forget that people are people, and that just as they will breathe, they will have sex – that’s how we all got here! There’s a stigma attached to HIV, but only because you have to do something “wrong” to get it. But having sex is not wrong. You don’t have to be promiscuous – it only has to happen once, and it can happen to anyone. I think that this stigma is the result of believing that one has to do something “wrong” in order to get HIV. But anybody can get it. There are two members of my family who have it, and I come from a very educated family. The first one is my first cousin – very well-educated, never married or had children, very conservative, dated a long time before having a relationship. Asked the person beforehand if they were HIV-free and to take a test, who came back with a certificate saying they were negative. She then found out, only after becoming positive herself, that he had actually been positive and that he had known it. She took all the right steps – what did she do wrong? Nothing, but she has it. That’s one person. Another one is my cousin, a gay Black man. Black men especially don’t like being called gay. He’s had the same partner for 15 years, and he’s also well-educated. He has HIV, not because he’s gay, but because he has sex, just like my other cousin does, and just like we all do. Of course, we now see children who have it, and older people, so as long as people breathe, eat, or have sex, there will be HIV infection, and it shouldn’t carry a stigma.
Q3. You are a trustee for Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI). Acid attacks are a relatively-unknown occurrence around the world, and yet their effects are horrendous. What is the ASTI doing to highlight this problem, and what are the governments in the countries in which ASTI works doing to combat this problem?
A: This is a very good question. I will be going to an event in Pakistan on Tuesday, with Her Royal Highness Princess Anne – she’s actually our patron. Acid Survivors Trust International actually works with various countries that have foundations of their own. Even though people say these attacks are not well known, it’s usually because people don’t talk about at – it’s seen as a burn attack, or something other than the violence that it is. Any time you have someone using a fluid to burn someone, it’s a result of violence – a result of trying to exert control over someone. This is done to children too. ASTI is not working with foundations in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana, also the UK and the US. People may think it doesn’t exist, and not talk about it, but it does. It really is a problem of violence, usually against women and children in order to control them, or to make them pay for their anger. And it’s really sad, because most of these people are affected for the rest of their lives – they have to have surgery, they have to get psychological treatment, and they see everyday the violence that has been perpetrated against them. Thank you for that question. At ASTI, we’re looking for more public awareness.
Q4. You’re a permanent representative for the UN Economic and Social Council in Geneva and in New York. Is the ECOSOC doing enough to break down social and economic barriers, and what more can be done to this end?
A: Well I’ve decided to dedicate most of my life towards children’s rights and working with them. I usually work with children and youth, because most of the world’s population consists of young people. But what’s very interesting is that even though over 50% of the world’s population is made of young people, they are the last to be consulted, their rights are the last to be considered, and they’re not usually brought to the negotiating table. What we’ve seen over the last several weeks in the Middle East is that things are starting to turn. Young people are saying that they have a voice, they’re important, and that not only did the world forget them, but they thought that they didn’t matter. Young people have decided that they need to be heard, and they’re not going to sit back and have other people govern their country anymore without having a say. When we talk about ECOSOC, and whether or not they are doing enough, I think in general, by being there and making sure that children and young people, they are making progress. When children’s rights are not considered, the problems we see now, with governments being overthrown and violence in the streets will happen. Because young people will be heard – they will not sit by any longer and have other people dictate what their lives will be.
Q5. We’ve asked a number of speakers from certain African countries, whose populations consist of sometimes as much as 45% young people, what their role is in terms of the topics of this conference – of tourism and nation branding. What I’ve heard is mostly that they should be in school, and that they can’t contribute to tourism…
Of course they do. First of all, they can contribute to tourism, because part of dealing with young people is teaching and promoting culture – whether it be language, visual arts or music. And that’s what tourists go for. People don’t want to see what they could easily see back home. And now there are some ties between tourism and children in terms of education, entrepreneurship, and the like. What some people are doing is putting a fee onto airline tickets, or hotel fees, and using that money towards helping young people and their activities. So of course they are connected – how can they not be?
Interview conducted by Ashley S. Fitzpatrick & Keith Norris