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Combating the ravages of AIDS, one child at a time

Marilyn Olsen – Whatcom Independent

BELLINGHAM – In the African nation of Kenya, around seven percent of the population is infected with HIV, and, largely as a result of HIV/AIDS, 1.5 million children are now orphaned. While such statistics can easily seem abstract to Americans living more than 9,000 miles away in Whatcom County, the problem is very real to Tim Costello. Through the Slum Doctor Programme he founded in 2000, Costello, Director of the Center for Service Learning at Western Washington University, has seen the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic in Kenya first hand.

An original member of the first AIDS activist organization in the U.S., Costello attended the International AIDS conference in South Africa in 2000. “It was the defining moment for me,” said Costello. “It was the point where the problem of AIDS ceased to be theoretical.”

Immediately upon returning to Bellingham, Costello created the Slum Doctors Programme, “literally on my kitchen table,” he said.

Five years later, Slum Doctors is a 501 (C) 3 with a board of directors and an office and two Americorp workers. Costello’s role? “I’m just doing my job as a human being,” he said. “We all have to do what we can, what we’re capable of.”

Slum Doctor is involved in four projects: Hope Center for Infectious Disease, Rabour Village Food Program,

Omobogo Girls’Academy and Cura Homes Orphanage.

Hope Center in Nairobi now serves over 3,000 patients.

Rabour Village Food Program provides two meals per day to 150 pre-school orphans in Western Kenya. “They are so destitute,” said Costello, who visits Kenya each summer. “These children go home to guardians, usually a grandmother, at the end of the day where it is unlikely there will be another meal.“

Slum Doctor and the Nairobi Rotary sponsor the Cura Homes Orphanage. Early, the first 30 children moved in and plans are to increase the population by 50.

The Omobogo Girl’s Academy is a boarding school for 52 girls aged 14 to 17. Each girl has a sponsor who pays for room, board and expenses. “These are the most vulnerable children in Kenya,” he said. “They have no one to look after them. The goal is to keep them in a safe environment where education gives them more positive choices and helps to prevent exposure to HIV.”

“What’s really neat and very positive is that the program is very personal and direct,” said Costello. “I know everyone we serve. It links our small town directly with a specific program. As donors, we all need to be thoughtful where our money goes. The tsunami in Southeast Asia was a perfect example of generous people giving too much money. As a result, much of it was wasted.”

“The needs are endless,” he said. “Every door that’s opened, every stone turned, uncovers yet more need. If we can’t address the issue of meeting peoples’ most basic needs, what does this say about us as a nation? What does this say about how we manage our own resources?”

“Hope is the basis of everything we do,” said Costello. “We have to believe that what we do will have a ripple effect. I feel privileged to be the bridge. I get to be the messenger between those in Bellingham who support our work and those who benefit from it. I get to come home and tell people what they did.”

Refugee All Stars Benefit for Slum Doctor Programme

Nightlight Lounge
Tuesday, Nov. 14
8:00 p.m. $25

All proceeds from the Refugee All Start concert will benefit Slum Doctors.

Advance tickets: Nightlight box office, Avalon Archives, Toad Mountain Coffee, Black Drop Coffee, Sonic Index. Online from Nightlight Lounge.

Or contributions may be sent to:
Slum Doctor Programme
P.O. Box 2156
Bellingham, WA 98227

AIDS in Africa

25 million people living with HIV; Less than 5 percent of those infected are being treated; 58 percent of people living with AIDS in Africa are women; 12 million children in Africa are orphaned from AIDS
Every day in Africa:
6,300 people die from AIDS
8,500 people are newly infected with the HIV virus
1,400 newborn babies are infected during childbirth or by their mother’s milk.