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World AIDS Day: A Friend Like Kami

Friday, December 04, 2009

When my son was a toddler, he had a small medical issue that needed to be surgically corrected. I was, as most parents might be, terrified at the prospect of my little boy undergoing general anaesthesia, and unsure of the best ways to emotionally prepare us both. Thank goodness for Mr. Rogers book, "Going to the Hospital," and Margaret and H.A. Ray's "Curious George Goes to the Hospital." They de-mystified surgery and hospitals, and gave him some frame of reference for what he'd be going through. Our local Children's Hospital had an excellent puppet show to prepare kids as well, which concluded with a visit to the Recovery Room so they'd see where they'd wake up and have popsicles to soothe their sore throats. I probably needed this reassurance even more than he did.

My son did fine through the surgery, and was back to his old self a couple days later. But other kids have tougher challenges. December 1 is World AIDS Day, a time that many of us remember those we've lost to this illness, and re-affirm our commitment to helping others who are facing this life-changing syndrome. While there are many resources for kids with AIDS, there's one that may be extra-special to us Disney fans: Kami, a muppet from the South Africa edition of Sesame Street, who is living with HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS. From MuppetCentral News:

The HIV-infected character was created at the urging of the South African government, which helps sponsor the show, to reduce stigma about the disease.

"Education is vital to ensure that people understand what HIV/AIDS is," Education Minister Kader Asmal said.

At the unveiling, Kami, who has a mop of brown hair and wears a vest, wanders onto Sesame Street and wonders nervously if residents will want to play with her.

She needn't have worried. The other Muppets enthusiastically welcome Kami.

On World AIDS Day, one might pause to remember Howard Ashman, the Disney Legend who penned the lyrics to songs you've heard in the parks again and again, including Under the Sea, Friend Like Me, and the entire soundtrack from Beauty and the Beast. Ashman died in 1991, when stigma surrounding AIDS was even more severe than today, and just a few years before advances in drug therapy began to make a significant difference in the life expectancy of people with the HIV virus. Some of the friends I expected to lose in the early 1990s are still alive today, which didn't seem possible in 1991. Others are gone, and I miss them.

 It's important that we continue to find ways to bring these life-saving medical and other therapies to people with HIV all over the world. And it's important too, that kids have a friendly, reassuring, furry face to help them through the emotional and social implications of living with a stigmatized and life-threatening syndrome. The kids of the world are fortunate to have a friend like Kami.