As Bryan Urbsaitis, ARSA founder, geared up for ARSA 3.0, the third annual ride across South Africa, safety was on the forefront of his mind.
“I’d be happiest if we just made it to Capetown with everybody safe, no injuries, no whammies, no car issues, no broken helmets, no tears, no anything,” he said from Johannesburg. “It’s always going to be a tough ride. Some of us might not get every kilometer but we know that the more we do this, the more awareness we raise. People will come to start to not just wonder why we’re cycling 1400 kilometers (880 miles) in South Africa, but they’ll come to expect it, and they’ll come to look for us year after year, and every July and August know that the ARSA cyclists are once again riding until there’s treatment for everybody who needs it and a cure one day for all of us.”
The purpose of ARSA’s ride provides the fuel for all the cyclists. ARSA is working on making available on this blog the voice interviews of this year’s participating cyclists. Please stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, Bryan expands on ARSA’s role in fighting HIV And AIDS:
“I think what we’re really looking for is, since it’s our third year, ARSA—AIDS Ride South Africa 3.0—we’re trying to get a couple of messages out there, three basic messages out there,” Bryan says.
HIV Positive Can Lead Full and Active Lives
“… of course, if you’re negative, stay negative, fine—and if you are (HIV) positive, it’s no reason to throw a party, but it’s also no longer a death sentence, we know this. Sometimes it can be a challenge in South Africa as well as the United States—and other places in the world. I don’t want to limit it to the developing world to make it sound like it’s a third-world basket-case situation, because we even see there are health-care gaps in the United States as well and (in) developing countries,” says Bryan.
“But what we want to show is that, if you are positive, and you have a chance to find that out early, it’s to your advantage to know that, because then you know how … you can maybe make plans how to treat your body medically, as well as physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And you can make plans; you can make sure you’re doing in life what you want to do rather than getting sick and not understanding why.
“You can—if you choose to—go on antiretrovirals, that’s the suggested regimen of the CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the moment you find out. Although we do subscribe to the antiretrovirals (ARV) philosophy, there are different ways to tackle this. Some people wait to go on them because they know they’ll have gaps in health insurance later on; some people do go on them right away. We don’t advocate waiting until it’s too late, clearly. But each person will have to make that individual choice. We do believe that if you do want access, if you are positive and you want access to those pills, that everyone should have a right to be on them if they want to. That’s a choice between you—and you have to work that out between you and your doctor, whatever.
“We also recognize that some of us, by taking these medications, will be able to set a positive, powerful example to the communities by showing that, hey, these are life-saving drugs and they are not only giving us strength to live but they’re giving us strength to pedal a bicycle 1400 kilometers across South Africa. We’re taking this message into some urban and some rural places.”
ARSA Ride Brings Awareness to HIV/AIDS
“But mostly, we’d like to be recognized. This is the third year we’re doing this, and people are starting to, I think, watch for us,” Bryan says. “We’ve started to build relationships internationally, nationally in South Africa, globally with the AIDS Conference and B’CARE in India. We have other partners, the youth group SBA in Alexandra township.
“And we’re finding that in whatever pocket of the world, people are fighting this (disease) in their own way. We’re proud of that, we’re proud of those initiatives, and we want to encourage people to be able to manage these things themselves. We don’t just want to be like a bunch of cyclists or a bunch of outsiders that fly into South Africa and save the day. We want to make it a sustainable development and a reconciliation issue, to be honest, especially in the South African context, where HIV and AIDS were allowed to explode under the apartheid regime. Now we see that, as a reconciliation issue, access to universal health care and properly taking one’s pills and having enough pills so you don’t have to distribute them to family members and not take them properly and so on.
“We’d like, if you’re going to take your pills, take them properly; make sure you’re getting yourself down to eliminating the virus as much as possible from the body. ‘Undetectable’ is a word that’s thrown around a lot, but ideally, we want to make people as ‘unsick’ as possible.”
Encouraging AIDS Education and Internet Skills
“As we create more awareness and we carry this message through South Africa this year—even on our logos and all of our press releases—we’re highlighting the fact that it’s ARSA 3.0, which is a little bit of a play on all of the (Web) 2.0 and Bill Gates and the software and all that stuff—but especially highlighting that in Africa, that one of the ways that we can combat this disease is through education, and education often happens online through the Internet,” Bryan explains. “… We know that education can happen through social networking sites, the media. And by focusing on the ‘3.0’, we really want to try to encourage a culture of computer literacy where people can, rather than just suffer or die in isolation, that maybe in the privacy of their own homes or in an Internet chat room, they can seek out the help and support they need.
“So even if they don’t the opportunity to … they don’t have to be computer savants but we’d like to give them the basic skills, that they could have basic Internet research skills, have an email address, be able to Skype. These are free resources that are available and can contribute to distance education in places like Africa, where traditionally, resources have been lacking. Also, they can get updates to the newest treatments and how to stay healthy and connect to others who might be (HIV) positive as well. For some people, it might be important to find a mate, to have a baby, to do all those things, so using the Internet and focusing on those things, like social media, these voice memos, video blogs and the WordPress and all that stuff that we’ve talked about before, we really are trying to introduce technology to some people maybe where they’ve never even had that exposure. It’s one thing to be sick, it’s another thing to be powerless to fight that.”
Donate to ARSA’s mission in bringing attention to the fight against HIV/AIDS and encouraging those afflicted to remain active and live life fully: www.arsa.org.za/donate.html
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