Pop star ups tempo in HIV and Aids effort

20th August 2010 at 01:00
Annie Lennox speaks about her SING Campaign, fighting HIVAids. She tells The TESS exclusively about what schools can do

It is vital that western children brought up in relative comfort realise poverty in the rest of the world is chronic and endemic, says Annie Lennox.

Sitting in a conference suite at Edinburgh's Holyrood Hotel, ahead of her Festival of Politics lecture this week sponsored by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Aberdeen-born Lennox spoke of her passionate belief in the power of partnerships between schools to make a difference.

"I love the idea of twinning with schools in Africa," she says. "Even if a child does not get to visit, having that dialogue and exchange starts to raise awareness."

But trips are undeniably powerful, she explains. Personal stories throw the issues into sharp relief in a way that photographs and media reports cannot.

"Unless you are a person without a great deal of empathy, you will be affected. It is a very valuable thing to send educated people like teachers to volunteer or visit countries and projects. They can come back as messengers to spread enthusiasm around and try to make a difference to people's lives."

Annie Lennox's own watershed moment came in 2003 when she visited South Africa for the first time to take part in Nelson Mandela's 46664 HIV campaign. The Eurythmics, which she fronted with Dave Stewart, had been among the musicians who boycotted the country during the apartheid years.

Standing outside his former prison cell on Robben Island, she heard Mandela describe the HIVAids pandemic as "genocide".

"I thought `he is saying this but who is listening, who is reporting it, who is responding?' Thousands of people are dying every day in Africa; women and children are at the forefront. The social impact of this genocide is off the walls. If it was happening in a western country, a state of emergency would be declared.

"I thought of myself as intelligent and well-informed, but this was the first I'd really heard of it. Ever since, I've been like the little boys shouting `fire' everywhere I go."

Lennox feels she is making progress. Her SING Campaign is changing lives; she's been made an Aids "goodwill ambassador" by the United Nations and an HIV and Aids special envoy to Scotland, as well as London.

"I'm positioning myself to be the representative of this issue. People speak up for other things but, unfortunately, stigma and fear surrounds HIV."

Lennox has urged teachers to educate themselves and have the confidence to broach the subject. "To people who are afraid, I'd say read up on it. Heaven forbid they might have a blood transfusion and be infected. How would they feel if nobody wanted to know?"

People must seek out something they can become passionate about, she says and adds: "Being a lady who lunches has its limits."



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