The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 1st

Activist Discusses AIDS in Asia

Asha Sekhri, president and founder of the South Asia Against AIDS Foundation and the keynote speaker of the Campus Y's AIDS Benefit Week, spoke about her organization's efforts to fund nonprofit groups that fight the spread of AIDS in South Asia.

The School of Public Health, the Carolina Union Activities Board and Great Decisions sponsored the speech.

Sekhri said she was inspired by what she described as Indian women's lost potential and the need to address the growing problem of AIDS in South Asia.

She began her presentation by showing a video about the efforts of four women running nonprofit organizations in India to fight AIDS.

The first woman in the video was a doctor in a hospital that accepts AIDS patients although it has almost no resources to treat them. The second was a social worker teaching prostitutes about HIV prevention.

The third woman in the video started a union of prostitutes in Calcutta that fights for the women's rights. The fourth started a support group for HIV-infected people, despite the stigma society attaches to the disease.

Sekhri said her organization raises funds that are given as grants to nonprofit organizations that address both the direct impact and underlying causes of AIDS in underdeveloped countries.

"AIDS has created the greatest epic battle for survival that the underdeveloped world, where 95 percent of HIV-infected people live, has faced," she said.

In a process she describes as "venture philanthropy," Sekhri said her organization tries to treat grants as investments. South Asia Against AIDS examines organizations' programs and financial records, keeping careful track of what the groups are doing, Sekhri said.

Senior Katherine Buckel said the speech gave her a new perspective. "I really hadn't thought about South Asia very much as far as the AIDS crisis goes. I always thought of sub-Saharan Africa," she said. "It's just sort of made me realize that there's still a lot of work to be done."

Sekhri encouraged young people to learn about the issue and to start their own nonprofit organizations. "I've been able to find 10,000 supporters, and I'm only one person," she said. "Whatever it is that you have, use it."

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