Step into the lives of children affected by HIV and AIDS in Step Into Africa exhibit coming to Cambridge

In 2009, 1.8 million people died from AIDS, which is less than the 2.1 million who died in 2007. In 2009, 2.7 million people were newly infected, while in 2007, only 2.5 million were newly infected. Of the 34 million people living with HIV or AIDS, approximately half are women and children.

“We are fighting the battle, but also losing the battle in many areas. You are going to be transforming people with Step into Africa, and they will turn around and help the next generation and create a world full of possibility and love.”

Marilee Pierce Dunker, daughter of World Vision founder Dr. Bob Pierce, spoke those words to the crowd gathered during the Step into Africa 30-day kick-off rally held Aug. 22 at the Armed Forces Reserve and Community Center in Cambridge.

Our Response, which formed in 2009, is a partnership between the people of East Central Minnesota and World Vision.

Our Response Director Steve Fredlund explained the ultimate goal of Our Response is to finance at least $1 million of World Visions’ work in Kivuruga, Rwanda, culminating in a celebration of their self-sustainability by 2025.

Fredlund explained Our Response is a local, grass roots “response” to global poverty, disease and suffering through the coming together of East Central Minnesota churches, businesses, schools and individuals. He explained 330 Kivurugan kids have been sponsored, and the group has also fully funded a $40,000 nutrition project that is bringing meals, milk and education to the children in northern Rwanda.

Dunker explained the work of Our Response is one of the main reasons Cambridge was selected as only one of three cities across the United States to receive World Vision’s Step into Africa exhibit in 2012.

Step into Africa is a 2,500 square foot interactive exhibit that allows Americans to step into the lives of actual children affected by HIV and AIDS in the hardest-hit region of the world: sub-Saharan Africa, where about 22 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS (two-thirds of the world’s total cases). Visitors walk through a replica of an African village and experience the effects of the pandemic in a real way as they listen to a personal audio track relating the story of one of three children—Kombo, Babiyre and Mathabo.

The exhibit is free and open to the public from Saturday, Sept. 22 through Sunday, Sept. 30. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 and will be located at the Isanti County Fairgrounds in Cambridge. The public is encouraged to make reservations in advance at www.worldvisionexperience.org/ourresponse. The exhibit is recommended for children age 8 and above. Volunteer opportunities are also available and can also be made through the website.

Fredlund encourages everyone to visit the exhibit.

“You have the opportunity to have your heart broken by the things that break the heart of God,” Fredlund said. “It breaks God’s heart to see his children going through those things. The people who walk through this exhibit are usually never the same again.”

Dunker’s journey with World Vision began later in her adult life.

“My journey with World Vision began 12 years ago in 2001 when I was 50 years old and God called me to World Vision,” Dunker said. “My life has transformed over the past 12 years and God has shown me first hand the work of my parents. We began the Step into Africa exhibit about seven to eight years ago to help raise awareness of the devastating impact of AIDS and the struggles of life in sub-Saharan Africa. Step into Africa is one of the amazing miracles of God that allows ordinary people like yourself to step out of your confines and see and taste into the deepest poverty.”

Dunker has been to 33 countries and seen some amazing things.

“I’ve seen people rise up and blossom, becoming amazing men and women,” Dunker said. “Through World Vision, with the child sponsorships and prayers and the good people here, good things are happening.”

It was during a visit to Rwanda and Uganda in 2005 when Dunker saw first hand the difference World Vision was making.

“Until you’ve been there and smelled it, you don’t know what poverty is,” Dunker said. “Poverty has a smell, color and a feel that is beyond description until you have been there. My father, Dr. Bob Pierce, once said, ‘Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.’ True compassion demands action. My father had a passion to do something.”

Dunker shared other statistics with the crowd that included:

• Over 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
• Every 7 seconds a child dies because he or she is hungry.
• One billion people do not have access to clean water.
• Over 16 million children have been orphaned by AIDS.

Dunker wrapped up her presentation with a quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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