Dexter woman using music to raise AIDS awareness in Namibia

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dexter, Mo., native Amy Taylor has always had a strong drive to help other people, sometimes to the chagrin of her parents.

"She's always been a sweety," says Amy's father Arlan Taylor. "She'll always, sometimes without thinking, try to help somebody, even if it will put her in danger, and that's what I worry about."

Amy Taylor's philanthropic drive has taken her far from her Southeast Missouri home. Since October 2004, Taylor has been working for the Peace Corps in Namibia, a sub-Saharan African nation of about 2 million people. Namibia is a place of food shortages in drought years, unequal income distribution and an AIDS epidemic that has infected 20 percent of the population.

Now Amy Taylor, along with other Peace Corps volunteers in Namibia, is using her music skills to produce a CD called "NamibiAlive!" that will raise awareness about Namibia's AIDS crisis inside the country itself.

Taylor is working with Namibian recording artists to create the CD, which will be distributed free to 5,000 combis, mini-buses that transport Namibians from town to town, in December. In her nearly two years spent in a Namibian homestead, Taylor said she's formed a bond with the people that compelled her to do whatever she could to help. Taylor teaches English classes in Namibia in which she incorporates AIDS education into the curriculum, and she's organized an HIV/AIDS awareness volleyball tournament, HIV/AIDS testing and peer training for students, an AIDS awareness week and World AIDS Day activities and events.

"'NamibiAlive! is important to me because the people of Namibia are important to me," Taylor said in an e-mail message. "I live with around 20 babies and children on the homestead. They call me Meme (mom) and I adore them. The women in the village all care for me like I was their child.

"It hurts to know that, statistically, if something drastic doesn't happen to change the course of AIDS, these people that I love so much will not live past 45."

One in five Namibians is infected with HIV or AIDS, and the life expectancy for residents has dropped from 60 to 45 years in the last 20 years. Taylor brainstormed the idea for the CD with fellow Peace Corps volunteer Dan Cwirka during a ride on a combi one day. Every weekend they make a two- to four-hour trip from the rural area where they work to the city to raise funds for the CD and work with the Namibian artists who will appear on the recording.

Fourteen of the country's biggest recording artists have signed on -- musicians with names like African Boy, Angels, Axue, Formula Band and Jerico.

"The musicians are great," said Taylor. "We were already on the same page. Many of them had already released HIV/AIDS-related songs or been involved in AIDS awareness efforts. Everybody in Namibia, myself included, is desperate to do something to curtail the epidemic. You just can't imagine what it's like to wake up to a funeral gun (people in the villages shoot off guns to alert their neighbors of a death in the house), and know that someone close to you has fallen victim to HIV/AIDS. There are funerals all the time."

Taylor said she has little experience with music, other than being a fan. "I use music a lot in the classroom when teaching English. Imagine a group of 50 Namibian teenagers singing 'Yellow Submarine.'"

But she didn't need musical experience to help make "NamibiAlive!" a reality. All she needed was the drive she and Cwirka shared to raise funds, coordinate the artists and make the AIDS awareness project a reality.

The CD will be released on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day. And after her service time with the Peace Corps is done Dec. 15, she says she'll stay in Africa until mid-March, touring the continent with friends. Her father, Arlan Taylor, says he can't help but worry sometimes. He and Amy's mother Anna often can't talk to their daughter for weeks at a time.

"I wasn't really excited about her heading off to Africa," he said. Amy lives only a few miles from the Angolan border -- a place Americans are told not to enter because of the danger. But he knows he can't stop his daughter's drive, and he knows she's doing good work.

"I think it's a great idea," he said of the CD project.

But he'll still be relieved when Amy's time in Africa is through.

For more information on "NamibiAlive!" visit

335-6611, extension 182

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