Eluding (fake) rebel gunfire on Yew Tree Farm

International work has sporadically taken me to areas where poverty and politics—and sometimes conflict or terrorism—keep safety and security top of mind. I am not an inexperienced global traveller; my first real experience in the global south was on Canada World Youth in 1985, several months spent in a rural village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, back when it was called Zaire and under Mobutu’s military dictatorship. Since then I’ve backpacked in South America and Asia, done a degree in international development, and for the last ten years, global work in HIV has sent me on over seventy trips spanning every continent. Continue reading

What happens to you when you ask a thousand HIV-affected children how they feel?

A meeting I attended in December, in Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town’s poorest townships, opened my eyes to the human cost of the social science research that fuels good policy—the cost to the people who collect the data.

I spend a lot of time at conferences and meetings hearing about children and families living in the context of HIV and AIDS—about people who cope with the pandemic, sometimes succumb to its ravages, but mostly survive it and live on. I listen to presentations and read studies that report on statistics, studies that try to prove which inputs lead to which outcomes, and which inputs may lead to no outcome at all. These studies help policy wonks and philanthropists make better, more evidence-based decisions in the hopes that they’ll have positive and far-reaching impact. Continue reading

My day with Mobutu

Twenty-six years ago, on a beautiful marble balcony, I shook hands with Mobutu Sese Seko, the former dictator of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was reminded of that day last month while on a work trip to Kenya. In Nairobi, I happened upon a clothing store with a t-shirt bearing the face of Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was the Congo’s first democratically elected president, but months into his mandate he was hounded from office, then hunted down and murdered by Mobutu following a CIA-backed coup. Mobutu ruled thirty-two years. His regime was brutal and repressive and while his resource-rich country withered, he amassed a fortune so large that he became the third richest man in the world. Continue reading