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Israel leads worldwide AIDS awareness campaign

Posted By David Brinn On November 27, 2005 @ 11:00 pm In | No Comments

AIDS activists get ready for Thursday’s bell-ringing campaign.An ambitious idea aimed at raising awareness about AIDS education that originated in Israel will resonate around the world this week. Literally.

On Thursday, December 1st – to mark World AIDS day – over a million people worldwide are expected to ring a bell for at least 60 seconds at 8:00 pm GMT.

The grassroots campaign – called Bells 4 AIDS – is the brainchild of the Israeli aid group The Jerusalem AIDS Project (JAIP) which hopes that the gesture will help to raise awareness of the disease.

The group is planning to set a new World Guinness Record in bell ringing for a public health cause, and anyone can participate.

“We’re requesting something simple. Gather together and ring a bell at the designated time – any bell. It could be a school bell, church bell, or fire department bell. Or it could be your own house bell, or your neighbor’s bell,” said Dr. Inon Schenker, an HIV/AIDS prevention specialist and the head of JAIP.

“Our greatest reward would be to hear 1,000,000 bells ringing around the world, making a collective noise for more awareness about HIV/AIDS and share the responsibility in prevention and care,” added JAIP chairperson Hanny Epelboim, who devised the original plan for the bell ringing.

People who are unable to locate a working bell can alternatively visit the www.bells4aids.org and click on the electronic bell on the website.

Every day 14,000 new HIV infections occur globally and over 40 million people are infected with the AIDS virus, according to Schenker.

“We hope this event will cement solidarity of concerned individuals – with no political or financial agenda – who feel that with so many millions of people infected by AIDS and suffering from this dreadful disease, it’s time to take a stand. There’s a lack of human and financial resources, as well as prevention, education, and care and support for those infected. We hope this will create solidarity and an affiliation of ideas,” he told ISRAEL21c.

The campaign has garnered a groundswell of support from volunteer organizations and individuals around the world. From the United States, Epelboim has reached heartland communities like Montana and Kansas.

“We are very excited about the ‘Bells are Ringing’ project and would like to be included in your goal of having 1,000,000 bells ringing. We are going to use this to kick-off our entire weekend of World AIDS Day events at the Yellowstone County Courthouse Lawn in Billings, Montana. We will be handing out red ribbons to wear and bells which will be rung for 1 min at exactly 1 PM Mountain Time. Additionally, we have contacted the churches, police and fire departments, and schools encouraging them to ring their bells at exactly 1 PM as well,” wrote Becca Pugh, Development Director of Yellowstone AIDS Project to the JAIP.

Dr. Gregory Mansfield, the Education & Outreach director of the Douglas County AIDS Project in Lawrence, Kansas was equally enthusiastic.

“Our biggest bell so far is the carillon at the campanile at the University of Kansas. The low bell will toll for 60 seconds… all 13,440 lbs of it!” he wrote.

“We’ve been extremely happy with the reception to this idea. In less than a month, we’ve galvanized a network of organizations. It’s a grassroots action which has taken hold, and I’m totally confident we’ll have more than a million bells being rung on December 1st at 8 pm GMT,” said Schenker.

Established in 1986, The JAIP has conducted interventions and training workshops in 28 developed and developing countries and has been working in collaboration with organizations that include UNAIDS, the Global Health Council, UNESCO, and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. The organization has successfully mobilized resources in communities to take a pro-active role in HIV/AIDS prevention.

According to Schenker, the idea for the Bells 4 Aids campaign came out of a course initiated this year by the JAIP called ‘Ringing Bells’ – a program which trained Israeli backpackers traveling in remote areas of the world to be volunteers in educating about HIV/AIDS prevention.

These backpackers were trained to be global leaders in AIDS education in the third world, helping to fill in the gaps where local non-profit organizations are limited or non-existent.

“We launched an international advocacy and HIV awareness campaign out of Jerusalem reaching throughout the world, based totally on volunteers. We realized very quickly that the bell was a significant instrument and could play a role in raising awareness about HIV and its prevention,” said Schenker.

Aware that the campaign could be viewed as preaching to the converted, Schenker explained that special efforts are being made to involve members of the community usually not concerned or aware of the problem.

“We’ve created 15 postcards which are available for download on our site, which we’re asking people to bring over to their neighbors. Go next door, ring their bell, and when somebody opens, they get an AIDS awareness postcard. Even if you don’t want to hand it to them, you can tell them, ‘this is a day to share responsibility’,” he said.

“We hope to target sexually active young people, civic leaders, and your neighbor down the street – to be influenced by the initiative and to take action – to educated themselves about AIDS prevention.”

“And finally,” he added, “we hope this will be the start of an initiative in HIV literacy, a new plan towards concrete action. There’s computer literacy, health literacy, and now under the model provided by UNESCO, there’s going to be HIV literacy. People must be literate about the disease, and how to prevent it.?

To stress this message, JAIP recently organized a seminar for 20 medical and social work students in Israel with the goal of establishing a national AIDS hotline.

Schenker, an international AIDS consultant and lecturer at Hadassah College in Jerusalem, takes pride in the fact that Israel can boast of one of the world’s progressive policies towards caring for AIDS patients and creating awareness of the prevention.

“I can look into the eyes of anyone and say that Israel is on the front lines of AIDS education. We were one of the first countries in the world – in 1987 – that implemented an AIDS education program in the school curriculum. And through our National Health Insurance, Israel provides medication, treatment and testing for people with HIV, free of charge. It’s part of every citizen’s medical insurance,” he noted.

According to Schenker, Israel has the most advanced legislation in relation to HIV testing for minors – it is one of the few countries that allows minors to be tested without parental consent.

While he is proud of local accomplishments, Schenker said he felt strongly that now is the time to focus on the global village through this project, in an attempt to make as many people as possible aware of the devastation caused by AIDS and active in trying to prevent it.

The way to begin that task is on December 1st. Schenker and the hordes of volunteers around the world will be there with bells on. Will you?

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