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Activist Alicia Tallack (centre) joined the School for International Studies to learn how to make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

AIDS walk leads to lifetime calling

July 23, 2009

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Alicia Tallack can’t put her finger on exactly why she first became an HIV/AIDS activist. There was no eureka moment for the 26-year-old first-year student in SFU’s School for International Studies. No friend or family member with the disease.

It was more of a vague, amorphous desire to make a difference that found its first tentative expression during a September 2005 AIDS walk in Toronto where at the time she was working as a make-up artist.

The Kingston, ON native moved to Bermuda two months later, expecting "there would be a walk there too," she says. But there wasn’t, despite a relatively high rate of infection on the island, and she discovered a huge stigma there attached to HIV/AIDS.

"So I decided to start my own AIDS walk there and maybe help work to end that stigma," she says. With help from the local group Supportive Therapy for AIDS persons and their Relatives her first walk drew about 100 people, with proceeds going to the STAR bursary program which helps those infected or affected further their education.

Tallack then moved to London, England, coordinating her 2008 walk by phone and e-mail and flying back for the event, which also drew more than 100 people.

But what really changed her life forever was a trip to the poverty-stricken village of Mongu, Zambia in sub-Saharan Africa where she volunteered in a hospital AIDS clinic.

"There’s not even a word to describe it," she says of the experience. "It was extremely overcrowded, and in such a small village it was overwhelming to witness."

She decided that if she wanted to make a real difference she needed to better understand the issues "and the International Studies program seemed like a great place to start."

Tallack returned for the third annual AIDS Walk Bermuda in June and while pouring rain dampened the turnout, she remains optimistic about next year’s event.

"I’m not sure what I’ll do after I graduate," she says. "I know I want to go back to Africa. And I know I’ll keep doing HIV/AIDS work."

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MIa Page Chambray

Ms.Tallack is my inspiration.

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