13-Year-Old Ambassador of Hope
November 30, 2007 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Austin Gutwein first became aware of the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS from a pen pal in Africa.“‘My pen pal [2006 video - 2:48]*...was the first one to open my eyes to the world outside of my own backyard,’ Austin says. One of the harsh realities that struck a chord with Austin was the fact that many kids become orphaned as a result of a parent contracting HIV. ‘I started to think about what it would be like if I lost my parents,’ says Austin. ‘I just felt called to help.’...On World AIDS Day [December 1] 2004, at age 10, Austin shot 2,057 free throws to represent the number of children who would be orphaned because of AIDS during that school day....Austin approached individuals in his community to sponsor his endeavor. That year [he] raised $3,000, which he gave to World Vision to be used to help eight orphans in Africa.” Three years later his non-profit, Hoops of Hope, raised $100,000 [2007 video - 2:32] which was used to build a residential school in Zambia for those orphaned -- and many infected -- by HIV/AIDS. Next year's goal -- to build a hospital.

Previous World AIDS Day posts - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
posted by ericb (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a child just 13 months younger than Mr Free Throw and all I can say: Holy crap. That's one awesome kid.
posted by DU at 6:46 PM on November 30, 2007

Damn, if I knew about this further in advance, I'd have taken the ball and my son and gone down the street to shoot free throws all afternoon. Thanks for the post, and the timeliness of it, but don't hesitate to post something like this earlier. Think of a thousand MeFites (YMMV), shooting hoops and raising dough on the same day.

And thousands of onlookers shouting, "Airball!"
posted by not_on_display at 6:57 PM on November 30, 2007

I agree...it would have been nice to know about this in advance, I've got an alternative ed program full of free throw shooters who might have bought into this...

an encouragement to others who have connections or knowledge of these kind of events...let us know early on....

and... good for him... there's hope for this world as long as we continue to raise young people like this...
posted by HuronBob at 7:01 PM on November 30, 2007

I just saw a piece about this kid on NBC Nightly News about two seconds ago. This kid is awesome. Amazingly well spoken. What an inspiration!
posted by Titania at 7:02 PM on November 30, 2007

This is a great post, ericb.

I'm also a fan of your work with Rakim.

posted by mullingitover at 7:32 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I am really surprised by what a difference one kid can make.
posted by gomichild at 8:52 PM on November 30, 2007

Zambia is my home country, so this topic is near and dear to my heart. My family managed to get out before the AIDS epidemic there became as bad as it is (I think it's estimated at 1 in 10 adults now).

It's very surreal knowing that a sizeable number of my teachers have died already. The schools I went to are having staffing problems, as well as the issues that arise from the larger population of orphans.

It's good to hear that people are still aware of what's going on and doing something about it.
posted by spiderskull at 9:18 PM on November 30, 2007

I'm living in South Africa and working with World Vision now, coincidentally. As mentioned in the latest UN report on AIDS, ZA has the highest number of cases in the world. Fully 70% of the cases on the planet exist in sub-Saharan Africa.

AIDS is a well-promoted problem in the US, so I'm thankful for posts like this, red ribbons, massive galas in Hollywood, kids shooting free throws, concerned congressmen, what have you. Diseases like this are crippling nations in this part of the world, quite literally. Its a real honor to be here helping directly help those most impacted by the problem, but the work seems growing and most times insurmountable.

(And now that I've preluded with a disclaimer like that...)

But here's my problem.

I feel pity for the orphans. I really do - my heart breaks for them. I took a pro-bono position half way around the world to come help them.

But I can't bring myself to care all too much for those adults who are dying of the disease, who contracted it by means of a choice that they made. Malaria kills more people every year here than AIDS does, and yet the funding that goes towards curing that (a preventable disease that has been effectively eliminated in the first world), is a drop in the bucket compared to the money that gets thrown at AIDS. Somehow we want to save the father that decides to sleep around but we forget to think about the child that will be bitten by a mosquito as he sleeps and die 6 days later.

And its not just here that its a problem. My mother will likely die from her Multiple Sclerosis. She didn't contact it by sleeping around. She didn't get it from recreational drug use. Her mother had breast cancer. Same story there.

I'm glad Nelson Mandela and all the big name bands are doing the 46664 concert this afternoon in Joburg, but I won't be joining my co-workers to go to the show. I'm not that interested in the line-up, but more importantly: AIDS isn't the only problem in the world.

Thanks for the post.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:12 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

allkindsoftime, I fully support your point that there are TONS of neglected diseases out there (like Malaria, something I just spent a year researching vaccines for). Malaria, TB, and diarrheal diseases kill scores more people every year than AIDS. But why does AIDS get so much more attention? Because its in rich countries, too.

That being said, frankly, I think your anger is misdirected by placing so much of the blame (onus, maybe?) on the people who "made a choice."

For the mother that lives in her home in the village, taking care of her 5 children while her husband works as a minibus driver, gone for months at a time on the road. He comes home and wants to sleep with his wife, and she as a faithful wife sleeps with him, even though she knows he sleeps with other women in the cities his minibus visits. She does this because if you're not faithful in her culture your husband can beat you, or worse -- often legally. How is that "making a choice"?

Or for the 15 year old boy going to a boarding school away from home. His parents died from AIDS six years ago, and he now lives with his grandmother, who is so old fashioned, conservative, and nervous that he is never given "the talk." Sure the other kids at school talk about sex all the time, but the basic understanding of the whole process is embarrassing throughout. Their school is a fairly good institution as far as sub-Saharan African high schools go, and there is a "Life Skills" class with a section on safe sex. But you see, the school just got funding for a new science lab from the Catholic church, so abstinence-only sex ed is all that's taught. Not to mention the sex ed teacher was particularly taken by the Archbishop Chimoio's comments that condoms are deliberately sent to Africa infected with HIV by the European countries, and relays this revelation on to his impressionable students. When this kid finally gets lucky after some school dance and is about to have sex with the hot girl at school, is he really "making a choice" because he doesn't think to protect himself. Or maybe he does, but doesn't even know how to use the thing in the first place.

I could go on. The mother who doesn't have the money to buy the drugs to prevent the transmission of her HIV infection to the child growing in her belly when he is born. Is that child at fault? Is the mother?

What about the countless others with HIV who cannot afford the most effect Antiretroviral therapies because the drug companies that produce these drugs refuse to allow their patents to be put aside for generic brand formulations.

AIDS, like so many illnesses before it, is constantly stigmatized and laden with the age-old baggage of "they deserve it for sinning." But when you get past the stereotypes, theres a lot more humanity underneath than many people are willing to recognize.

And that's what's so fucking scary about it. That it can affect anyone. Pretty soon, I bet withing the next few decades, we will live in a world where no one is not personally touched by this disease. And it is stigmatizing shit like "they deserved it" that will continue to keep this problem under enough people's radar that it will only get worse.

You're totally right, there are myriad other problems out there, but you can recognize this very well without resorting to a viewpoint that actively makes another epidemic WORSE.
posted by i less than three nsima at 11:19 PM on November 30, 2007 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with i less than three nsima -- education (well, lack thereof) is the root cause of this, and most organizations know this. It may seem like apathy, but I really think it's just a lack of understanding, or a feeling of distance from the issue. Both of these can be solved with the right information dissemination, and vigorous response against misinformation.
posted by spiderskull at 2:42 AM on December 1, 2007

It makes me feel good to know that of all the repugnant things the US president has done, at least he hasn't stopped giving free condoms to Africa.

Oh, wait, it was the first thing he did when he entered office.

This is why he isn't burned in effigy often enough.
posted by mullingitover at 10:46 AM on December 1, 2007

CNN: AIDS Orphans Abandoned [video - 2:03]
posted by ericb at 11:03 AM on December 1, 2007

I'm glad Nelson Mandela and all the big name bands are doing the 46664 concert this afternoon in Joburg...

CNN: Nelson Mandela Hosts the 46664 Concert [video - 2:01]


Click here to watch the concert online.
posted by ericb at 11:08 AM on December 1, 2007

ericb: i just wanted to say that you're one of my all-time favorite posters and commenters here in the blue. your posts are thoughtful and well-explained. and you're usually the first one (and often the only one) to post thought-provoking counter-arguments and/or further examples of any given post in the comments.

thanks, man. you make my mefi experience awesome.

but, given that this kid is 4X younger than i am and has already done so much more to help this godforsaken planet than i ever could, i'm now going to go jump off a tall building.
posted by CitizenD at 12:08 PM on December 1, 2007

I think your anger is misdirected by placing so much of the blame...

You made a pretty big assumption that I am angry about it. I'm not. I'm concerned, that's why I'm trying to help. Its a far cry from angry.

AIDS, like so many illnesses before it, is constantly stigmatized and laden with the age-old baggage of "they deserve it for sinning."

I really hope you're not implying that I said anything of that nature, because I didn't.

You mentioned a few tough examples, yes, and I agree with you that education is a huge need.

And that's what's so fucking scary about it. That it can affect anyone.

This is exactly what I'm talking about. AIDS gets so much attention and funding because there's a chance the people with the means to help could potentially be affected by it personally. And so we focus on that instead of the diseases that kill scores more, as you acknowledged. Many of which are MUCH more preventable than AIDS at the moment. What am I missing here???

but you can recognize this very well without resorting to a viewpoint that actively makes another epidemic WORSE.

Recognize it? I don't think we are recognizing it. At least not for what it really was. If we were recognizing it, we might be doing something about it, which we aren't, like you pointed out.

Here's the ironic thing about your last statement - you can flip it around and insert the myriad other problems as the epidemics which are being made worse. And then you'd be right.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2007

Thanks CitizenD. Oh, don't jump, please?
posted by ericb at 1:21 PM on December 1, 2007

The agency we adopted our baby through (domestically) has a special program for the international adoption of HIV+ babies and kids. I'm just tossing the info out into the ether.
posted by not that girl at 5:27 PM on December 1, 2007

Also for the ether - Baby Haven is an org that some of my friends run, for orphans (HIV+ or not) here in Joburg. There's a huge need for more organizations like these here - every one of these kids has a heartbreaking story.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:01 AM on December 2, 2007

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