Officials from President George Bush’s administration and members of faith-based organizations gathered on the Dahlgren Quadrangle last Wednesday in an open seminar on Faith-Based Initiatives and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief.

The seminar focused on the Bush administration’s proposal to devote $15 billion to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. AIDS currently kills an average of five people every minute, over 3 million each year.

The plan is part of an effort to allow faith-based organizations (FBOs) to receive government grants for their HIV/AIDS relief, care and prevention organizations.

The proposal was written so that organizations which had proven effective in combating AIDS would be able to receive federal funds without losing their faith character; however, funds can not be used for inherently religious actions, and the government would maintain strict accountability over all funds granted.

James Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, spoke to the group over lunch about the necessity of FBOs in this process.

“It’s not about whether you believe in God or not but about if your program works . our focus should be on results,” Towey said.

Towey went on to address concerns about the use of these religious organizations, saying, “We can’t have people preaching with the money or promoting religion with U.S. funds . This program has to have integrity because we want it to succeed.”

The seminar included presentations by 10 different FBOs, including World Vision, the Salvation Army, the American Jewish World Service, the Community of Sant’Egidio and the South African Conference of Catholic Bishops. Jocelyn McCalla of the Africa Jesuit AIDS Network spoke of the necessity of including the African voices when speaking of AIDS relief.

“AIDS is the biggest threat to Africa since the slave trade and imperialism,” McCalla said. “[People must] support Africa, listen to them, let them develop their own resources at their own speed.”

McCalla spoke of the “nine dollars” needed in basic cleanliness, education and health for every “one dollar of medicines shipped” and appealed to the government and other FBOs to not forget the nine dollars.

Sister Allison Munro told the group that, “prevention efforts need to be scaled up at every turn.”

Towey ended his lunchtime address encouraging those working with FBOs to understand the greatness and richness of these countries they are working in, and not only focus on the suffering they see.

“This can be discouraging work at times . I urge you to be faithful,” Towey said.

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