Only a few minutes into his speech entitled “Education: The World’s Greatest Force for Good” humanitarian and AIDS activist Stephen Lewis admitted to the sold-out audience that he may have trouble staying on topic.

“We’re in the middle of an election campaign and all of my political juices are flowing,” said the 77-year-old Lewis, who served as leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party in the 1970s. “I will have to exercise extreme self-discipline not to expound my thoughts on Canadian politics.”

It was one of many wry comments that set the tone in a keynote address that ranged from anecdotes about Canadian politics to somber reflections from his experiences in Africa as co-director of the organization AIDS-Free World.

More than 250 people gathered for his speech as part of Carleton’s homecoming celebration, Throwback. Lewis told them that his work was motivated by the consistent message he received when he met with children in war-torn countries, refugee camps, and makeshift hospitals.

“I’ve spent several years traveling through Africa and it’s always the same: children have a spontaneous, instinctive need to go to school,” said Lewis. “It’s a matter of visceral truth that education lies at the heart of everything for children.”

Lewis pointed out that a country like Nigeria spends approximately $4 per year on a child’s education, while in Canada, it’s closer to $8,000. Yet humanitarian aid is spent primarily on food and clothing.

“You can see what we’re grappling with,” said Lewis of his organization AIDS-Free World. “There are so many circumstances uniting to prevent them from attending school.”

Lewis’ organization is also working on behalf of girls and women to prevent sexual violence and the cultural acceptance of child brides.

“If there is one issue that is more important than any other, it’s to get students to understand that gender equality is the single most important issue on this planet,” says Lewis. “We have to start in kindergarten if we really want to affect society.”

Lastly, he praised the international learning opportunities provided at Carleton, FPA, and FASS, including the new Bachelor of Global and International Studies (BGInS). “It speaks to a willingness to absorb people who emerge with a determination to ameliorate the human condition.”

Lewis speech was co-hosted by the Faculty of Public Affairs and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as part of Carleton’s annual Throwback celebration, which is held every fall.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 in ,
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