Hamburg grad to educate rural Tanzanian villages about HIV/AIDS

By Brenda Maguire
Item Correspondent

Laura Keller, a 2004 Hamburg Area High School graduate, will leave on May 17 for Tanzania, Africa, to educate rural villages about HIV/AIDS.

View and purchase photosLaura Keller, a 2004 Hamburg Area High School graduate, will be leaving on May 17 for Tanzania, Africa, with a program called Support for International Change to educate rural villages about HIV/AIDS.

“I got a chance to go to Tanzania (while studying in South Africa in college), and basically when I was there I experienced how HIV/AIDS impacts Tanzania,” said Laura Keller, via telephone from her current residence in Los Angeles. “These are people who you can clearly see are vividly sick, but they have to continue working because their community needs them.

“When I saw that, I thought, I’d like to return and give back to the community in more of a volunteer capacity, instead of a tour capacity.”

Support for International Change is a competitive program that has partnerships with universities to take current students, as well as alumni, to Tanzania. This includes Laura Keller’s alma mater, the University of Southern California, from where she graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and economics.

The main goal of the program is to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS through education.

The education will not just be about the biology of HIV/AIDS, but also to teach Tanzanian students other health issues they do not typically learn about, such as hygiene and puberty.

“You’re going to those schools and teaching about HIV and AIDS. Most of the time the students do not receive sex education,” Laura Keller said.

While in Tanzania, she will teach two, sometimes three, groups on an average day.

“It could be a school, or it could be something like teaching a mama’s group, which would be a group of mothers who get together for various issues,” she said. “You could also be teaching elders in the village. If you see a bunch of people gathered in the town you would do an impromptu teaching.”

Laura Keller hopes she can learn a lot of the Swahili language while in Africa. She also wishes to learn more about how the people in the villages create jobs for themselves and what they are doing for their community development.

Holly Keller, Laura’s mother and resident of Hamburg, is excited for her daughter, but those feelings are accompanied by a bit of worrying as well.

“I understood her reasoning for wanting to go back, because she was so impressed by the people last time. I knew that really moved her,” said Holly Keller.

“I am also a little concerned about her safety, because she will be living in the village. They don’t have any modern conveniences,. She’ll be living in a hut, there are no grocery stores or anything, she’ll be eating what’s grown there and showering from a bucket. I was worried a little bit about the difference in culture there.”

Despite her fears, Holly Keller admits, “I totally support her decision on going there.”

Laura Keller has set up a website detailing her travels, http://www.larkeller.com. The site has an area for donations; she has already raised $2,000 for her trip. She also has a section on the site to request postcards from Tanzania.

Laura Keller will be attending the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism when she returns to the United States to gain a master’s degree in journalism.

More information on the program can be found at http://www.fichange.org.
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