Kevin Perkins is trying to save the world. Or at least the continent of Africa. He is the executive director of CAP AIDS-The Canadian African Partnership on AIDS-a Toronto-based non-government organization that was officially launched at the Bambu Club on Tuesday.

“The mission of CAP AIDS is to channel more Canadian public resources and support towards the efforts of Africans to meet this challenge of AIDS/HIV,” said Perkins.

The greatest strength of this fledgling group is its direct ties to communities in Africa, he believes. “We’re very careful about forming partnerships with African NGOs. We have members we’re affiliated with in Africa–Africans, people that I’ve personally worked with in the past, building a relationship of trust. They help identify really effective grass-roots African organizations.”

Perkins, a U of T graduate in International Development, worked for many years as program officer for CPAR-The Canadian Physician’s for Aid and Relief-an organization that focuses on community development in Africa. He is looking for organizations which will use funding and resources responsibly, and African organizations will want to connect with Western NGOs that won’t patronize them or take them over, “something I’ve found NGOs in developing countries are often concerned about,” said Perkins.

“From my past work with CPAR we formed partnerships with two NGOs in Ethiopia; the Mekdim and the Hiwot.” Mekdim is run by HIV-positive individuals in Ethiopia. Hiwot is an African education group dedicated to increasing community understanding and responsibility about AIDS. “These two groups are being very proactive, quite bold and daring really, in challenging Ethiopian society to face up to the problems.”

Perkins explains there is an enormous stigma with being HIV positive, making it far more difficult to deal with the epidemic. “Changing African public perception about AIDS is very important.”

A concrete goal of CAP AIDS is to prepare for products expected to be ready for distribution in two years. “Microbicides, they’re a bit like contraceptive foams, applied vaginally. They kill all kinds of infections from HIV to gonorrhea,” noted Perkins. These products address the past fundamental failure to prevent STDs in Africa. “They create an opportunity for women to maintain control without having to negotiate condom use.”

“The other thing CAP AIDS is working hard at,” said Perkins, “is providing organization of Africans in Canada. I’ve found a real excitement and interest to join in CAP AIDS and help. Most Africans in Toronto have relatives in Africa with HIV or know someone who has it. People for whom AIDS in Africa touches in a very deep and direct way.

“We are also looking for more student involvement. We could certainly use people with communication skills, people who would want to participate in educational symposiums or seminars.”

Perkins appeared pleased with the turnout on Tuesday, which included many African expatriates, thanks largely to the efforts of board member Dorthee Chopamba. A key objective of the new organization is to have strong involvement by the African Canadian community, for whom the African AIDS epidemic is more than tragic numbers.

“I come from Zimbabwe, we know what it’s like,” said Richard Kuzviwanza. “I lost a brother and his a wife. Every telephone call every day you hear ‘so and so is gone.’ For me it’s not just statistics.”

The event was sponsored by a variety of businesses and organizations, including the Metro Credit Union, NOW magazine, and the Bambu, which donated the space.

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