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Professor raises money for African women and children affected by AIDS

Children pose outside of the Chikumbuso school.
Children pose outside of the Chikumbuso school.

The word Chikumbuso means "to remember." For those in Zambia whose lives have been devastated by the AIDS epidemic, the word takes on a larger meaning - it is about remembering the many they have lost. For Julia Kushigian, professor of Hispanic studies at Connecticut College, Chikumbuso is about remembering to do for others.

"We're all in this together," said Kushigian. "The AIDS epidemic is heartbreaking."

Kushigian, an active member of the New London Rotary Club, is helping raise money for the Chikumbuso Women and Orphans Project in Lusaka, Zambia. The organization aids single mothers, grandmothers and orphans whose lives have been affected by the AIDS epidemic, the largest killer in Sub Saharan Africa. It includes five projects: the Orphan's School, Widow's Income Generation, Single Mother Training, Grandmother Outreach and Child Sponsorship. The New London Rotary club and other groups across the region are hosting a number of fundraising events that run from April through July.

While Kushigian's area of study takes on Latin America, an entirely different part of the world, for her, the issues in Zambia - poverty, racism, marginalization - are relevant no matter the region.

"We study the conquest of the New World and the roots of slavery, and this is all interrelated. I'm trying to give my students a transnational view of the world," said Kushigian, who is encouraging her students to volunteer at the scheduled fundraisers.

The mothers and grandmothers left to care for the children are also benefiting from the Chikumbuso project. They are learning to create micro economies - making money by selling handmade bags, jewelry and other items.

"The women may not be related, but they all end up being a family. They are reaching out to each other to try to overcome tremendous obstacles," said Kushigian. "The projects have helped young children a lot. In the schools, they're gaining the skills they need to go out and get jobs."

A recent pancake breakfast, which Kushigian chaired, raised $1668. Of that money, $50 will be sent to the Asayo Wish Foundation in memory of Connecticut College student Liz Durante '10 - who was killed in a recent car crash - in order to continue her work with children affected by the AIDS epidemic in Uganda, a program that reflects the goals of Chikumbuso.

Kushigian and the other Rotarians next hope to raise enough money to purchase solar cookers for the Orphan's School. For young girls in Zambia, traveling alone to find firewood can be extremely dangerous. With solar cookers, said Kushigian, no firewood is needed.

Remaining fundraisers include:

- May 2: Tag Sale, North Stonington Christian Academy, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

- May 3: North Stonington Bike Ride, 11 a.m., $10 donation requested.

- July 31: Stonington Vineyards Cocktail Reception, 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are available through Groton-Ledyard, New London, Mystic and Stonington Rotary Clubs. For more information about the Chikumbuso project, visit

April 20, 2009