New Year’s resolution?

A new year calls for new beginnings, new goals and new resolutions. When counting down to midnight, the most common self-made promises involve losing 10 pounds, hitting the gym at least three times a week or being more outgoing so that cute guy or girl in your history class will finally notice you.

Amidst all the promises, people rarely promise to fight AIDS in Africa. As such a huge pandemic, one person with a promise wouldn’t make much of a dent anyway, right? But maybe three can.

Hanson, the famed band of the late 90s, achieved mass success with their hit MmmBop, from the album Middle of Nowhere, in 1997. The three brothers rocketed to fame and fortune and have been quietly producing their own albums since.

They successfully set up their own record company, 3 Car Garage (3CG) after a battle with their previous label.

Their most recent album, Underneath, released in 2004, achieved critical acclaim and a documentary regarding their struggles with music industry executives has been screened at various universities across Canada and the United States.

This past July, Isaac, Taylor and Zac, the three Hanson brothers, spent five days touring Mozambique and Soweto in South Africa .

Friends of theirs had spent years creating software that is useful in the medical field and had donated it to the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in South Africa. What they saw there, they said, would forever change them.

“There are at least 14 million AIDS orphans, so the problem is not going to just go away,” Isaac, the eldest Hanson brother, said.

“We, as North Americans, should be able to affect that in a very big way.”

While in South Africa, Hanson, along with a children’s choir in Soweto, recorded a song entitled The Great Divide. The song speaks of struggle and keeping hope when you never had reason to.

It features the children, singing in their native tongue, the phrase “Ngi ne themba” – I have hope.

“That’s one thing I took with me when I left South Africa,” Isaac explained, “I left with a very profound sense of hope. There’s optimism there despite dire situations – the people are always hopeful for a future; that tomorrow will be a better day than yesterday.”

Hanson has released The Great Divide, downloadable via ITunes, to the U.S. and Europe.

They are currently negotiating its release to Canada. Every penny of the proceeds goes to the prenatal unit of the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, South Africa.

The prenatal unit of the hospital is crucial in the fight to stop AIDS.

The primary focus of their research is in lowering mother-to-child transmission rates of HIV/AIDS. Currently, the transmission rate is 90 per cent.

Isaac insists, with our help, those staggering statistics can change.

HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is transmitted through blood or sexual fluids.

The disease weakens the immune system to the point where it can no longer ward off simple infections like the common cold. HIV causes AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

HIV/AIDS is often transmitted through unprotected sex, or through childbirth from an infected mother.

It seems logical, then, that prevention is simple enough. But this is not necessarily the case.

Organizations fighting global poverty have often suggested that preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS is the first step in conquering the pandemic.

However, men often work as truck drivers in South Africa and are away for extended periods of time.

Some men take up with prostitutes, then return home to their wives who may be beaten, killed or thrown to the streets if they dare ask their husbands to wear a condom.

AIDS is often a taboo subject amongst the citizens of South Africa. Those who are infected live in fear of being banished from the house or beaten to death.

According to the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), 57 per cent of those infected in South Africa are women.

AIDS is seen as a consequence of promiscuity or lack of cleanliness, so most do not dare utter the word AIDS even as they lay dying.

With AIDS as the number one cause of death in Africa, it seems incredulous that the disease will never appear on a death certificate in South Africa as the cause of death. It will be a common cold, a virus, something that infected the victim and killed them because their immune systems were weakened by HIV/AIDS.

According to AMREF, in 2005 alone 4.9 million people were infected with HIV/AIDS. AMREF foresees 18 million AIDS orphans in Africa by 2010.

There is an average of 40.3 million people in the world living with AIDS, and Africa harbours 95 per cent of those infected. If these statistics applied to Canada, one in every three people would have the virus.

Since AIDS was first discovered 25 years ago, it has claimed 25 million lives. With the lack of accessible knowledge for many communities and detrimental views on prophylactics, the number of victims is expected to skyrocket within the next few years.

As such a huge problem, many people feel helpless in the struggle to make a difference.

“I think the primary way to solve the problem is to stop kids from being born with it,” said Isaac.

“If we can get to the mother within a month of giving birth to the child, then we can change the cycle of death to a cycle of hope.”

Isaac’s younger brother, Taylor, agreed.

“These kids are pretty much born without having any choice.”

By donating money and supporting the cause, Isaac said the prenatal unit of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital can administer medication to the child within one month of birth and thus decrease the transmission rate to a mere 2 per cent.

Taylor insists that the battle is not won by manipulating people with guilt into helping.

“I think it’s about recognizing the incredible opportunity that we have and helping people understand what can be done,” he said.

“People have priorities in their own lives – get up, go to work, make money, feed the kids. It’s hard to wrap your head around something larger, because they’re doing what’s really important to them, to keep their lives going in the right direction,” Isaac continued.

Along with The Great Divide, Hanson has designed and marketed an AIDS-awareness T-shirt.

The T-shirt, which has the lyrics “We can conquer this great divide” on the back, is available via their website and 100 per cent of the proceeds will also be going toward the prenatal unit of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

The band insists purchasing the T-shirt will make a difference. According to Taylor, it’s about using the resources you have in order to help.

“There are opportunities every day, to help out,” Isaac explained.

“The red campaign, for instance. You can affect those who need the help just by buying a cell phone.”

The Red campaign is a part of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Established in 2002, the organization allows consumers to purchase common products and ease their social conscience.

Items such as red cellular phones, red IPods and even a red American Express credit card can be purchased with 50 per cent of all proceeds going directly to the Global Fund.

So far, the organization has been able to provide US$6.6 billion to 460 programs in 136 countries around the world.

Although much still needs to be done in the face of AIDS in Africa, Isaac believes simple opportunities create a great impact.

Deeply marked by their experience, the band said that it has changed their views on their own lives quite a bit.

“There’s no question, as a generation, we are very disconnected from the idea of needing,” Taylor explained.

“We need a car that’s five years old instead of 10; we need to decide between McDonalds or Wendy’s for lunch because there’s so much available to us.”

Taylor emphasized the need for compassion and providing people with a clear understanding in these situations.

As a parent of three young children himself, Taylor said his perspective has deepened significantly.

“I realized how short life is,” he said.

“I tried explaining to my oldest son that some kids in Africa don’t have moms, they don’t have toys. I put it in his terms, because I want him to know that there’s a world outside of suburbia.”

While Taylor deemed it important for kids to be aware of other situations and experiences outside of their home, he advised it should be done in small doses.

“I want to instil in them a greater sense of understanding and security, a greater sense of self,” he said. It also inspires them to “do more as they grow up.”

Collectively, the band agreed that there is still a lot to be done, and a lot that hasn’t been done.

Taylor maintained it’s about having a positive influence on people.

“Give them the idea that they are free, and capable of developing new ideas that can have a huge impact.The power that we have, being in the public eye, is to light a match and say ‘here’s the ember, go start the fire.'”

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