Student travels to Africa

Most of us wouldn't even think about AIDS in Africa let alone go to Africa to combat AIDS. Tim Kummer is not most of us.

The College of Arts & Sciences sophomore traveled to Kenya for a month this summer and helped people living with HIV/AIDS.

He stayed with two other Marquette students and six local Kenya nuns at a dispensary called St. Joseph's Shelter of Hope in Voi, Kenya. He was there from May 26 to June 28.

Tim said it was hard to tell his mother and father about this at first but they supported him in his endeavor.

"In that kind of work you really open yourself up to dangers and pain," said Eileen Kummer, Tim's mother. "I worry about him but I'm very proud of him."

Tim, a Manitowoc native, was not allowed to medically attend to AIDS patients, but he worked to comfort them through song, conversation and companionship.

"They knew we were there to help and see what we could do," Tim said.

After a month in the country he walked away with a new philosophy.

"You change the world one friendship at a time," Tim said.

Two friends, Gregory St. Arnold and Conor Sweeney, College of Arts & Sciences sophomores, accompanied him.

When they arrived in Kenya, the three stayed in Nairobi for a week to immerse in the culture and become accustomed to their surroundings.

Tim had to familiarize himself with the language and the food. He said he ate traditional meals at his four-day homestay. The meals mainly consisted of carbohydrates like beans, bread and rice. He said he also tried Kenyan dishes like Chipati, a spicy tortilla and Ugali, solid rice. Fruit was a large part of his diet, according to Kummer.

Tim learned first-hand what it's like to be a minority as a white person in a mostly black country.

"I was sick of being the majority," Tim said. "That's something I think everybody should experience and one of the reasons I wanted to go on the trip."

When Tim and his friends stayed at the dispensary, they interacted with AIDS patients in several ways.

The three students entertained and talked with the patients on their monthly visits to the dispensary for medical help and medication. They also accompanied the nuns on their visits to nearby villages.

The Marquette sophomores played with children at St. Agnes School, a kindergarten through seventh grade, co-ed institution run by the nuns. Tim said the children were very curious about the three students because they were probably the first white people the children had ever seen.

"It was just heartbreaking," Tim said. "One of the most frustrating things is you build a friendship and right before you left you almost waited for that person to say, 'Will you pay for my sister to go to school?'"

He said the questions stemmed from the idea that white people usually have money, an idea he was warned many would have.

The AIDS pandemic has enveloped Africa because of a lack of knowledge and established cultural norms, according to Tim. Many people believe condom use and HIV tests are "embarassing" and those suffering with AIDS are afraid to get treatment because their families may shun them.

Tim met a mother in her twenties who lived with AIDS but did not admit to having the disease, because cultural ideas against the disease are deeply ingrained in society. She denied her illness and breastfed her three-month old infant. The child, who was not born with HIV, was infected with the virus.

Despite experiencing such "tough" scenes, Tim gathered positive lessons from his experience.

"You learn to appreciate people," he said. "Some people living with AIDS have spirits like none other. They are some of the happiest, thankful people."

Sharon Chubbuck, assistant professor in the School of Education, first met Tim last spring in her Critical Issue in Contemporary Education course.

Chubbuck said Tim's Jesuit ideals about caring for others manifested in his comments in class.

"He gets a lot of joy out of life," Chubbuck said. "My impression is that people who work for justice and are able to succeed are people who really enjoy life and I think Tim is one of those people."

In addition to interaction with AIDS patients, Tim and his friends assisted the Marquette College of Nursing's nurse-training program, with whom they came.

The students helped organize medication, donated by American doctors who had excess samples. Tim said they learned other medication would be purchased with grants from Marquette and the government.

The students approached Karen Ivantic-Doucette, College of Nursing clinical assistant professor and co-director of the nursing training program in Kenya, to ask if they could accompany the nurses.

After a few months of planning and parental apprehension, Tim and his friends were on a plane to Kenya.

Tim said he thought about going to Africa on the heels of U2's Bono for a long time. He considered visiting Africa throughout high school.

Tim attended Manitowoc Roncalli High School in his hometown where he not only was involved in sports, theater and music, but also in Lasallian Youth, a service group.

Timothy Olson, principal of Roncalli High, was close to Tim and remembered his involvement in the community.

"Tim has always been sort of an altruistic, a very other-centered person," Olson said.

Kummer said he plans to return to Africa next summer and take three to four people with him.