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Ede Eyawo

Ede Eyawo, an international student from Nigeria, is the co-founder of SFU’s AIDS Awareness Network

The accidental AIDS activist

May 28, 2009

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He has arguably done more than any other student in the university’s history to raise awareness and fundraise on campus for HIV/AIDS research.

But the irony is that Oghenowede (Ede) Eyawo, who graduates this month with a master’s degree in public health from the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), almost never made it to SFU.

"Looking back now, I never had the slightest idea I would end up here today," says the Nigerian-born co-founder of SFU’s AIDS Awareness Network. Just a few years ago he was on his way to pursuing a doctorate in zoology.

"After I finished my BSc at the University of Benin, I jumped at the opportunity to do a master’s in zoology at Karl-Franzens University in Austria."

While completing his masters with thoughts of becoming an environmental scientist, however, Eyawo volunteered with a state-run AIDS group. "And this experience completely changed my whole outlook on the future," he says. "I thought maybe this is what I want to do with my life."

With degree in hand, he began searching the Internet for public health graduate programs and eventually found FHS professor Ed Mills, an internationally recognized champion of health and human rights who has conducted HIV/AIDS research throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Their conversations eventually led to Eyawo’s acceptance into the master’s program. "I could have applied for the PhD," he says, "but I thought if you really want to learn public health, start from scratch."

But an unexpected visa screw-up almost cost Eyawo his seat in the highly regarded program, leaving him with only a week to get to SFU, find accommodation and register before fall 2007 classes began.

Mills quickly came to the rescue, finding him a room and even picking him up at the airport. "When I tell people this story they can’t believe it," the young African laughs.

In September 2008, Eyawo went to join the student HIV/AIDS support club, only to find there was no such group. So he approached fellow FHS grad student Adam King and over a pitcher of beer at the Highland Pub, the SFU AIDS Awareness Network was born.

The network, now 50-plus members strong, has raised more than $3000 and organized several events to benefit people affected by the disease.

Eyawo is already working as a research analyst at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and plans to eventually return to Africa to apply his skills there.

Meanwhile, he says: "I’m glad today that I started something that will be like a legacy when I’m gone."

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