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TAIPEI, Taiwan – Five Vincentians are among a group of Caribbean, Taiwanese, and international students who have called for action on HIV/AIDS here, where  57 percent of men and women say they did not have sufficient information about the disease, according to Durex Global Sex Survey, launched to mark World AIDS Day.

The students are all enrolled at Ming Chuan University (MCU), which has the highest population of Vincentian and international students in this Asian nation.

The “Call to Action Campaign,” put on by the university’s International Volunteer Group (IVG), came as confirmed cases of the disease here have increased from 15,651 in 2007 to 22,491 at the end of October, according to official statistics.

Additionally, the number of foreigners diagnosed with HIV/AIDS here had increased to 790 at the end of October, up from 650 five years ago.

“I think the project was a true international collaboration. I take special pride in being a part of this project because it has allowed me to relive the emotional experience of working on the production of the House of Hope documentary in St. Vincent about a decade ago,” Jamali Jack, a mass communication and journalism major told I-Witness News, noting that Vincentians out numbered all other nationalities in the campaign.

“I believe that the committed involvement of the Vincentians in this campaign speaks well to the fact that though we are from a small chain of islands, we can have a significant positive impact in countries where we find ourselves,” said Jack, who was responsible for media production, marketing strategy, branding, technical co-ordination and logistics.

“While our governments do their best diplomatically, it is important that on a much more personal and societal level that each of us play our part. I also believe that the many messages and education received at a very early age on HIV/AIDS has worked well in our favour to frame our understanding of the importance of an open discussion on HIV/AIDS,” he further stated.

The other Vincentians in the group are: Joanna Jack, a travel and tourism major, who was responsible for photography, protocol, and technical assistance; international business student Nikieta Mandeville, who helped with  event planning, decorations, and catering; Janet Antoine, also a business student, along with journalism and mass communication student Treldeen Lewis, who helped in several areas of the project. All of the students, along with Jeana Jack, another Vincentian here, sang a song for a video launched as part of the campaign.

The campaign concluded yesterday, World AIDS Day, with a candle light vigil at MCU, attended by university officials, students, diplomats, a city government official and a representative of an organisation that works with people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) or affected by it.

The campaign grew out of what the volunteers say was a need to highlight an issue that is taboo not only in Taiwan but also in many other parts of the world.

“Through this campaign, we are hoping to create more awareness and to provide accurate information about the virus to our peers so that they may in turn educate their friends and by extension the wider society,” said St. Lucian student Vina Frederick, director of the volunteer group.

From left: Ambassador Alhagie Ebrima Jarjou, Dr. Chris Merkelbach and student Vina Frederick.

“We thought it important on World AIDS Day to stand in solidarity with people affected by HIV/AIDS all over the world,” she said of the candlelight vigil.

Frederick further noted that progress in combating the virus could only come through collective effort.

Speaking at the vigil yesterday, Alhagie Ebrima Jarjou, ambassador of The Gambia to Taiwan, said that that HIV/AIDS is a “cruel” global phenomenon, a “killer” that has claimed many lives.

“We know AIDS is terrible but we know also that humans never give up. The struggle to defeat AIDS is much alive. No wonder in institutions like Ming Chuan University you have intellectually vibrant students who can stand up and take the challenge to not only raise their voices but to actively work to ease the lives of people with AIDS,” he said.

He said that while HIV/AIDS infected and affected persons are often marginalised, the presence of the number of diplomats at the ceremony showed that the students’ cause was a “noble” one.

Meanwhile, Dr. Chris Merkelbach, a volunteer at Harmony Home, a residence for persons living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, spoke of the challenges that his organisation previously faced as it was sued out of a neighbourhood by residents who did not want to live close to a home for PLWHAs.

A subsequent court battle ended with a victory for the organisation.

“People with HIV has the right now to stay and work in Taiwan,” said Merkelbach, who was ten years ago, while battling cancer, given six months to live.

The candle light vigil yesterday also saw the launch of a music video (see below) produced as part of the campaign.

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