Africa Connections provides education and action options for First Unitarian members and families to connect with communities of the Imani Project and Quilts for Empowerment and the Zimbabwe Artist Project. Service, advocacy and fund-raising support education and subsistence and continue to address the global AIDS epidemic; including availability of HIV medications and support for AIDS orphans.
“What draws me to the work is the sense of personally being part of a global community. What keeps me going in this work is the passion, experience and camaraderie of our Africa Connections group members.”
Africa Connections affirms the shared commitment that each of these organizations have to strengthening self-sufficiency.
The goals of Africa Connections are to:
• Provide opportunities for individuals and families in the congregation to learn about, support and participate in activities of organizations which work on the ground in Africa.
• Coordinate the fundraising and outreach of each organization within First Unitarian Church and in the wider community.
• Continue the work of the UU Global AIDS Coalition to advocate on behalf of people impacted by HIV/AIDS in Africa and beyond.
Meetings and Updates
We meet regularly and send e-mail updates. Please contact Annie Bennett at ABen74@aol.com to learn more about meeting times and to receive e-mail updates.
To learn more about our group and how to get involved you can contact Ann Pickar, Founder and current Chair: APickar@cs.com.
How We Started
The group now known as Africa Connections started out in 2003 as the UU Global AIDS Coalition, a social justice action group at First Unitarian. At the UUA General Assembly in 2002 in Quebec, Ann Pickar, our founder and current chair, heard a powerful address given by Stephen Lewis, then UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, about the devastation and deaths taking place in Sub Saharan Africa from AIDS. This disease could be treated in the United States, but was simply not an option in countries where the average income was often under $1 per day because of the over $15,000 dollar annual cost for treatment. This injustice proved a call to action for First Unitarian Church members. Back in Portland, Madeleine Lefebvre and Ann offered a class to educate congregation members (and ourselves; we soon realized how little we knew) and found speakers by networking with existing organizations. At the final session of the class, we decided to form the UU Global AIDS Coalition and were accepted by the Social Justice Council as a new action group, with three goals: education, advocacy and direct service.
Our small initial group soon grew and spun off two additional organizations, the Portland Area Global AIDS Coalition and the national UU Global AIDS Coalition (UUGAC). These coalitions built a web of local and national organizations that address the impact of AIDS, global health and global poverty UUGAC was formed as a result of an Action of Immediate Witness which we passed at General Assembly in 2003, which committed UU’s to support US involvement in addressing the global impact of AIDS. UUGAC is run by a steering committee of representatives of “Red Ribbon Congregations” and along with Africa Connections participated in the Global Village of eight UU International Organizations at General Assembly held in Portland in June 2015.
Where We Are Now
Africa Connections is now our name as we have broadened our focus beyond the impact of HIV/AIDS to support education, health and subsistence through direct service activities. We still focus on the impact of HIV/AIDS, but we do this primarily by supporting the work of two organizations which work in Africa and were founded by members of our congregation. The Imani Project was founded by Marlene Anderson and works in the coastal villages of Kenya. The Zimbabwe Artist Project was founded by Dick Adams and works to provide a market for artists in Weya in rural Zimbabwe. We recently voted to add a third organization, Quilts for Empowerment, led by Mary Ann McCammon that works with fistula survivors and pregnant women and like Imani and ZAP also helps Africans impacted by AIDS. The on-the-ground support they provide adapts as needs evolve and includes many opportunities for members of our congregation to become involved, whether by individual donations, help with putting on events, child sponsorship or travel to Africa. Our intent is to offer our congregation ways to participate in building a global beloved community in whatever way works for them. We continue to serve as a hub connecting to like-minded organizations such as RESULTS. In 2016, our group hosted at First Unitarian a youth art exchange with a Kenyan school and a formal program about Imani with a crafts sale and slide show. Members are also taking a direct role supporting ZAP exhibits and art preparation as ZAP has recently moved its inventory to a small closet at church. We continue to participate in educational activities and to advocate for access to the local cost medications which have enabled such an amazing increase in people being treated for and thus surviving HIV and also for testing. Testing and treatment also help prevent children being born with HIV. We meet regularly for potlucks and our membership includes many who have lived, worked or served in Africa, often with the Peace Corps or NGO’s. All are welcome to join our meetings and our mailing list, support our work with donations, or work directly on projects for Imani or ZAP.