Maybe the hardest part of being a kid is feeling like there's all this stuff happening in the world, and you're not really empowered to do anything about it. You can't vote yet. You don't work yet (at least not full-time) so you don't have a lot of money to donate to help other people's efforts to fix problems. You can't just pick up and fly somewhere to help out in places where people need help. I mean, you're a kid, living at home, going to school. What can you do?
Check out what Ethan did – he started his own non-profit, The AIDS Cure.
I'm really excited to interview him and find out more.
Lee: Hi Ethan!
So, tell me about The AIDS cure.
Ethan: Well, I was 11 years old when I started The AIDS Cure. The reasoning for this was because I was hearing a lot about AIDS everywhere and how much it affected families not just here in the U.S., but that it was a problem on a worldwide scale. I knew that something needed to be done. So, I started small and took donations and clothes and put them in a safe place. There was only one problem, I had no idea who to give the money and clothes to. A couple of weeks later, I was talking to my aunt about this problem and she told me that she knew a non-profit that worked for families affected by AIDS called Ten Thousand Homes. I thought that would be better than sending the money to AIDS research, because millions are already donated to that and basically would be a waste of time. So I talked to my aunt's friend, a mission worker. We had talked about it and he said that I could give everything to him and he would make sure it would go into good hands. So, I went home and I began counting the money I had raised thinking, "I'll only have just a few bucks, but something is better than nothing!" I was surprised to see after about a month I had raised $129.07 and about 3-4 large trash bags full of clothes! I knew with this much money and clothes, they could help many families that are in need. So i thought about it and after a lot of work, I had built The AIDS Cure. What I do is take donations (I stopped taking clothes), set up fundraisers, and spread the word to people about AIDS awareness and how we can help. Now I have had The AIDS Cure for about 2 years now and have taken donations and have given all of the money to Ten Thousand Homes. Happily I have raised a lot more donations since I started. If fact, I have raised at least $50 more dollars in the last month. The best way to summarize what I do is in this little story. A lot of people ask me, "Are you trying to find the cure for AIDS or something?" Without even thinking about it I respond, "In fact, that is not my main goal. Sure, it would be one of the best things the world has ever seen, but my main goal is to go to the heart of the problem, which in my opinion are the families that are affected by the disease. I want to help them in every way I can and I won't stop until there is a cure for this disaster!"
Lee: That's awesome. I'm curious - from your perspective, what do kids your age think about AIDS? For your generation, is there a stigma attached to people who have it or are associated with it - or is it just seen as a terrible disease, like cancer?
Ethan: Well, here is how I see it. Kids my age are exposed to a lot but apparently not to AIDS. Sure kids have heard of the name AIDS, but they don't know what it "really" is. In fact, a lot of the time, I have to explain to people my age when I tell them exactly what my charity is helping. I also see kids making fun of it a lot and saying only LGBT people get it from ... I feel like it's my job to inform the people who " have been lead astray."
Lee: So how do you explain what AIDS is to a kid?
I have the new issue of Harvard Magazine (I did my masters there) on my desk and the cover is "Africa's Epidemic: On the front lines against AIDS" and my child saw it this afternoon and asked about it. As I started to explain, I realized we parents generally don't talk to our kids about diseases - we want to shelter them from even the knowledge about things like cancer, AIDS, Mad Cow Disease... and yet, that sheltering just creates a vacuum of information that gets filled with rumor and things that aren't true.
I told her that AIDS was a disease that some people get and while there are drugs to help, they are very expensive and many people can't afford them. And that on the continent of Africa, there are a lot of people with AIDS who need the drugs and can't afford them. That's a problem, and there are lots of people trying to figure out how to help.
And maybe that's an okay answer for young elementary school kids... But what do you say to other middle schoolers? How do you explain what AIDS is to them?
Ethan: Well, I try to keep it as simple as possible when trying to explain it. What I usually say is this. "AIDS is a disease that affects your immune system so bad, that even the common cold can kill you. Sure, it might be alright for "some" people to get the medication they need here in the U.S., but people living on continents like Africa are mostly poor. In this case, they don't have the money to get the medication they need to stay alive. This is a problem, and what The AIDS Cure is trying to do is to help them by sending money over there so they can get the most important thing they need to not only keep from dying, but to make life easier.
Lee: That's really well said, Ethan. Unfortunately, there are a lot of diseases and problems in the world. Can you share with us why you've decided to focus your creativity and energies on helping with this one - why helping people with AIDS matters so much to you?
Ethan: Here is how I see it. The main one we all know of is cancer. Everyone knowing about it is a good thing and there are a lot of big organizations helping it. Of course there are more, but there are a few that are not "exactly" recognized. AIDS is one of those diseases. Like I answered before, part of what i try to do is spread awareness to the unknowing. Another reason is, because of the day it became personal. My mom's best friend, my uncle Scott, was just recently diagnosed with HIV and I knew right then how families feel. I knew it could get worse for other families than it is for me, especially if the families' relatives were to die.
Lee: Thanks for sharing that, Ethan. I hope your uncle Scott is doing and feeling well. What do you think is the best way to get kids involved and wanting to take action to help if they don't have a person they know dealing with HIV/AIDS? What will motivate other kids to want to help?
Ethan: As anything in this world, sometimes it is easy and sometimes it's hard. In this case, some people just have the good personality and want to help and some have the "I don't really care" type of personality. So, I have relate to both sides. I have to show them what and how things happen when this disease is put into play. The more relatable to them it is, the more they care and want to help. I try to spread the word, so for someone who knows nothing of AIDS, I try to teach them about it and again try to relate to that person. I try to help people understand it on an emotional level as well. I tell them, "People's families are affected so much that people die or they get their medication but don't have enough money to pay their bills." Then I say, "How would you feel if this happened to you? I bet you would want to help them any way you could. That's what I try to do for these people."
Lee: Yeah, empathy - putting yourself in other's shoes - is key.
So, Ethan - What can my blog readers do to help you help others?
Ethan: Word of mouth is the most important thing, first and foremost, to spread awareness. Second, if anyone is interested making donations it can be done (at this time I'm only set up to receive locally, but my blog site is being created) through Ten Thousand Homes in the name of The AIDS Cure.
Lee: Should we invite people to join your cause and/or donate to help at the facebook page? (Here's the full link: http://www.causes.com/causes/488096 )
Ethan: That would be fantastic! The more supporters and donations to help, the better!
My thanks to Ethan for everything he's doing and for telling us about it! I know I’m inspired. How about you?