AIDS in Africa up close and personal

Skrevet af Chris Day - Foto: Morten Brandstrup - 22. marts 2008 - 12:520 kommentarer
Signe's first documentary in Tanzania brought her into contact with the young mother, Finest, who was dying of AIDS.

CBS BSc in Business Administration and Psychology student, Signe Bjørg Jensen, has been to Africa making AIDS-documentaries for DanChurchAid, one of the major Danish humanitarian non governmental organisations

The world does not consist of ledgers, accounts and marketing campaigns. It consists of other human beings. The most important business is the business of being human.

As Signe Bjørg Jensen passionately explains, once you have been to Africa, it never leaves you. If this imparting of the enigma that is Africa has echoes of Karen Blixen, the modern realities are strikingly different. Signe’s travels to the dark continent placed her in direct contact with poverty, sickness, an AIDS epidemic growing out of hand, and ultimately, a glimmer of hope. As 23 year old Signe struggles with a demanding second year of studies in HA (Psyk.) she knows that she will forever be changed by her experiences in Tanzania.

It was almost at random that Signe, as a member of the Danish Scout movement FDF and through the recommendation of a former teacher at Silkeborg high school, that Signe received a request for help out of the blue: A documentary film producer called and asked her if she’d take part in a film about the AIDS epidemic in Tanzania on behalf of DanChurchAid. The premise of the documentary was to take an ordinary Danish boy and girl and expose them to the grim realities of Tanzania. Their experiences were to be recorded for a film to be shown to young Danes throughout the country.

Getting it together

If Signe was to be cast as the ordinary girl, there was nothing ordinary about her reaction on being asked. Whereas many would think twice about such a daunting undertaking, preferring the safe distance of faceless statistics, Signe had no reservations.

- My first thought was that I really wanted to go, she says.

Signe’s only reservation was that it would mean missing classes at CBS. However, with the help of a flexible study group, she decided it was the chance of a lifetime – and even managed to fit in some reading whilst sitting in Tanzania’s national park.

Signe ended up making two documentaries in Tanzania. The first film brought her into contact with a young mother by the name of Finest. Like an estimated 25 million others in Africa, Finest had contracted HIV and, with her young son by her side, was slowly dying.

For Signe, the most rewarding aspect of the trip was being able to put a face on the disease. The huge unimaginable scale of the epidemic became all too real when seen in the suffering of a fellow human being. Although Finest’s son had mercilessly escaped the disease, it was the thought of him becoming an orphan that really upset Signe.

- How would he be a nice boy with no Mother?

As Signe explains, whilst free AIDS medication may be available in Tanzania, it is the cost of travelling long distances to the hospital, accommodation and the actual lottery of receiving treatment on arrival that creates huge barriers for ordinary people. Leaving Finest with a small amount of money, it was with a heavy heart that she left Africa.

Getting things in focus

Returning a year later, Signe was delighted to see a great improvement in Finest. She had used the money to get to the hospital and was doing well. Even more encouragingly, other villagers had noticed the improvement and word had quickly spread that getting medication could help.

- It was really nice to see that even a small amount of help and attention does matter, she points out.

With regards to Africa, Signe believes that education is the key issue and attempting to overcome the barriers of ingrained traditions.

Back at CBS, Signe initially found it hard to concentrate on her studies.

- Why am I here when I can be out there changing the world in a good way? she asks.

Signe soon began to look at the problem from a CBS perspective and was excited to see what could be done to help. To fellow students, her message is get involved in some way – be it a small charitable donation or actual volunteering, everyone can afford to do something. She firmly believes that volunteering and travelling can be combined with study.

- Sometimes you can get stuck in the CBS world, but it’s nice to say my priorities are that I would like to help someone as well. Just remember that the whole world is not profit maximisation, Signe points out.

For this remarkable young woman, she may be finished with travelling and making movies for now, but her experiences in Africa will never leave her.

Info 

Africa and AIDS

Signe’s films can be accessed on www.standsaids.nu

DanChurchAid : http://www.danchurchaid.org/

Volunteer International: http://www.volunteerinternational.org/

Danish Red Cross: www.redcross.dk/

Practice safe sex in Denmark: http://www.freedoms.dk/