The students filed into Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall as they would for any ordinary assembly, laughing, shouting, complaining that the auditorium felt too cold. But once they were seated, a teacher cautioned them that the presentation they were about to hear was on “a serious subject; don’t laugh or chuckle.”
Samohi senior Kelly Snyder showed the students a chart with some information about HIV/AIDS as a global epidemic. She asked them: “What percentage of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing countries?” She then asked the students to look at the stickers that had been handed out to them as they entered the auditorium.
“If you have a blue sticker, stand up.” More than two-thirds of the students stood up. “You represent the people in developing nations who have HIV/AIDS,” Snyder continued. “If you have a black spot on your sticker, you can sit down. Those of you who sat down are lucky. You represent the people who will get medical attention. Everyone who is still standing has a problem. You are too poor to buy drugs and get treatment.”
In this way, the students at Santa Monica High School learned that the HIV/AIDS-infected population in developing countries represents 95 percent of all those infected worldwide.
Snyder, the organizer of World AIDS Day at Samohi, gave a series of five presentations at various times during the school day on December 1. She showed slides and videos, citing the statistics about HIV/AIDS: 40 million people worldwide are infected; the disease has its highest impact on those living in poverty; HIV/AIDS creates a cycle of poverty because of its impact on teachers, parents, workers and eventually on a country’s economy.
Snyder is a member of the NetAid Global Citizen Corps, a one-year program that enables American high school students to engage other students in efforts to end global poverty. Her participation at Samohi coincided with the participation of students all over the U.S. on World AIDS Day.
“I wanted to do this because this is history that you don’t usually get in history class,” explained Snyder. “We have great history classes here but they usually only deal with Western history.”
The students heard from guest speakers Bobby Shriver, Santa Monica City Councilmember, and producer Vicky McCarty, whose film 3 Needles has just opened in some area theatres.
Shriver spoke about (PRODUCT) RED, the organization he co-founded with Bono to raise funds for AIDS by selling clothing and other products through retail outlets. He told the students that (PRODUCT) RED raised $11 million in just its first five weeks of existence. But this is a drop in the bucket when so much more money needs to be channeled to the problem.
“We can move the world,” Shriver said, “but we have to work like dogs. You can be famous and get nothing done. But to get things done you need to work.”
Shriver also introduced the students to a surprise guest, Professor Richard G. A. Feachem, who runs the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. (The Global Fund is the recipient of (PRODUCT) RED revenues). Feachem, by coincidence, was staying at a nearby hotel and when he heard about the World AIDS Day event, came over to lend his support.
McCarty showed a trailer for 3 Needles, which weaves together three stories about people with AIDS in different countries.
“Using the arts can sometimes pierce through and bring together different people and cultures around the world,” said McCarty.
Joshua McDonald, a 16-year-old sophomore at Samohi, was one of the students for whom the presentations had a memorable impact.
“I thought it was really interesting,” he said. “I never thought about AIDS – it’s really scary – but it’s a reminder. It’s a big reminder.”