(Photo: Jennifer Rikkers)
I remember clearly the time I first learned of EGPAF and its mission to eliminate pediatric AIDS. While my family was living abroad in France in 2004 and 2005, I read an article about AIDS Walk Africa (AWA) in Marie Claire
magazine. I wasn't someone who had ever been impacted directly by HIV, and I really didn't understand how badly it was ravaging the lives of mothers and children in Africa.
Over the next few years, I kept noticing mentions of EGPAF and AWA in my daily life – sometimes in the most obscure ways. I started to feel as though my heart was being drawn to the cause, and to Africa, for a reason.
Like all mothers, I want to protect my children and to give them the best chance at healthy, happy lives. I found myself wondering, “Why shouldn’t all mothers everywhere be able to give their children a chance at a bright future?” While it may have seemed impractical to most people with young ones at home (I have three boys), I just knew I was being called to a mission outside of myself – and to connect with EGPAF. At that moment, I knew AWA was something I needed to do.
Prior to AWA, when I was preparing physically for the daily walks, I was unaware of how much emotional “prep work” would be required. That’s something for which a first-timer can never train enough! However, it was exciting to be going to Swaziland, a country with which I had just recently become familiar; it was even more exciting to know I would see firsthand the wonderful work that EGPAF was doing in Swaziland and beyond.
I must admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed during the actual walk – not from exhaustion, but from the sheer magnitude of the epidemic: at the time I went to Swaziland, one out of every three people there was HIV-positive, and the country is still afflicted with one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.
When I came home, I had a visceral, emotional response to everything I had witnessed – and I felt a very strong urge to express it immediately through my art. I quickly began reviewing images and choosing those that touched me the most; these became the focal point of numerous paintings.
It wasn't enough to just bring my camera, to be a voyeur, and simply witness what is happening in Swaziland. I had to do more. “Message from Swaziland” was my response to this desire, to continue to share the Swazi people’s message and what I witnessed happening in a country with 33% of the population infected with the AIDS virus. All of my “Message from Swaziland” works have symbolism throughout. In fact, each painting has a Swaziland stamp within the piece to be the literal symbol of sending the message.
The “Message from Swaziland” series has been in several exhibits, and because 33% of the Swaziland population is infected, I donate one-third of every sale directly to EGPAF. I am grateful that the public has responded to these works, and that the sales of these pieces have continued to support the great work EGPAF does!
Visit Jennifer’s websites at www.jenniferrikkers.com and www.fiddleheadart.com.