October 09, 2020

A Closer Walk

In 2006, I was a member of the Rotary Club of Alliston, Ontario.  With some members of the club, I went to a screening of the movie, “A Closer Walk.”  This movie really touched me.

The film is a documentary about the global AIDS epidemic and is narrated by Glenn Close and Will Smith.  It features interviews with numerous well-known figures, including the Dalai Lama and Bono.  The storylines encompass a broad spectrum of the global AIDS experience and include people from all walks of life: children and orphans and those who are caring for them; doctors, nurses, and social workers; human rights advocates; and scientists, economists, researchers, government leaders, and non-governmental organization (NGO) officials.

In the movie, the film crew travelled to Africa, where injections overwhelm the public health system and countless orphans face death.  Some of the main themes of the film were: the causes of AIDS; health and dignity; human rights; and the need for greater compassion.  The film is a brilliant account of the deadliest plague that humankind has ever known and is told in a way that inspires hope and action.

I was so moved by this documentary that I started a committee of three members.  I contacted Base Borden, Ontario, and we were given permission to feature this movie at the Terra Theatre-Cinema.  We printed some posters and local businesses generously allowed us to display them in their windows.

On March 27, 2006, a small crowd attended a viewing of “A Closer Walk” at the cinema.  The screening was free; however, attendees were encouraged to give donations, which would be forwarded to Dignitas International, a medical humanitarian NGO that “[builds] resilient health systems and [advances] the right to health for marginalized people and underserved communities.”  Having been moved by the story like I was, the President of the Rotary Club of Alliston presented a donation of $5,000 to the cause.

At a later date, I heard Jane Philpott speak on the radio.  I learned that prior to entering politics, Mrs. Philpott was a family physician and was known for promoting medical education in Africa.  I was very interested in her story and decided to reach out to her to see if she would speak for the Rotary Club of Alliston.  Thankfully, she was happy to do so.

During the course of her speech at the Rotary Club of Alliston, my opinion of her continued to grow.  She was extremely impressive.

Mrs. Philpot told us how she, her husband, and her young children went to Sudan in 1989, as well as the Republic of Niger in West Africa shortly thereafter, to practice medicine in the countryside.  Tragically, in 1991, her two-year-old daughter died of meningococcemia, which is a bacterial infection.  Mrs. Philpot and her family continued to live in Niger until 1998.

Mrs. Philpott founded Give a Day to World AIDS in York Region, Ontario, and engaged with Canadians to respond to HIV.  Her movement grew in the medical and business communities and, as of 2014, had raised over 75 million dollars for those affected by HIV in Africa.

In 2018, 37.9 million people were living with HIV around the world.  Of these individuals, 24.5 million were receiving medicine to treat HIV, called antiretroviral therapy (ART).  In total, an estimated 770,000 people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

Which stories/causes have touched you the most?  And have any influenced you to act in support of the cause (e.g. by donating, volunteering, etc.)?  Let me know on Facebook or in the comment section below!

- Johanne Levesque

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