Beyond the Numbers

by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & elcome to sub-Saharan Africa. Home to two out of every three people with HIV in the world. Millions of orphaned children -- 20 million by 2010. Fifty-eight million lives lost by 2020. The litany of statistics could roll on and on, to the same mind-numbing effect: Paralysis.

"The sense of World Vision, in working with this issue, is that the statistics are so overwhelming that people say, 'There's nothing I can do about that,'" says Kevin Finch, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane. "World Vision Experience: AIDS," a traveling multimedia exhibit, is designed to "challenge everything you thought you knew about the AIDS crisis" by putting real faces on the astronomical figures. It's coming to First Presbyterian this weekend.

"Some people can't talk by the time they're done -- it's so moving," Finch says. "Others say, 'If I had known this is what it was -- other than someone pitching me on sponsoring a child -- I would have invited everyone I know." At the free exhibit, visitors are supplied with headsets and walk through one of four interactive "life lanes" portraying the realities of an actual child affected by the AIDS crisis. (World Vision warns that the display may not be appropriate for children younger than 12.)

"It really is transformative," says Ruth Nottingham, a church advisor with World Vision. "In a short time, people have a different picture of who they are in relation to people who are a continent and an ocean away."

The impact of the AIDS epidemic is seriously compounded by the poverty of the region. "Everyone is either infected or affected -- it touches everybody," Nottingham says. In sub-Saharan Africa, "if a family with two or three children is intact and doing OK, they are now taking care of six to 10 children," she says. "Or a grandmother will be taking care of 12 grandchildren because all her children have [died]." In a region where people still have to haul water by hand -- sometimes for miles -- it's a challenge just to get the basic necessities of life. Access to modern health care and education is limited, and food prices are going up. "Even those who have access to medicine -- a small percentage -- that medicine is hard to take if you have poor nutrition," Nottingham says.

"There are a lot of people in [the U.S.] that just plain don't know," she continues. "But we can't stand by when there are 13 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa and say, 'That's too bad.'"

The exhibit, "World Vision Experience: AIDS," is scheduled for May 16-17, 9 am-9 pm; May 18, 8 am-9 pm; May 19, 10 am-7 pm. Free. It's being held at First Presbyterian Church, 318 S. Cedar St. in Spokane. To register, visit or call 747-1058.