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All it takes is one: Africa Is Real

by Daniel Smajovits (writer), , February 09, 2007


Apathy. Lack of concern. Indifference.

These three words are synonyms for the common trait shared by most university students, however, for 20 year old Michael Roskies, he has always been taught otherwise, and as a result, his actions have sent shockwaves through Montreal's academic community.

Roskies, a second year Biology student at McGill University is the Founder and President of Africa Is Real (AIR), an organization that has quickly garnered a following throughout Canada and some of the United States.

"I've always had this feeling, this urge to do something,"  said Roskies.  "As I grew older, my family always instilled in me the value of not just to do well, but to do good and  this is something I always live by."

Aside from the values he picked up at home, Roskies looked to the past for further inspiration.  "As [Descendants of] Jews who have suffered the atrocities of the Holocaust it's our moral responsibility to ensure that the saying  ˜Never Again" holds true, and unfortunately right now, it isn't."

For Roskies, it was his work in the McGill AIDS Centre that caused him to reach into his heart and recapture the values that have been apart of him since childhood in order to give birth to Africa Is Real.

Yet, it was not only his Jewish values that inspired him in the creation of the organization as he does not want to affiliate Africa Is Real with any religion, from the 1000 plus registered members across North America to the affiliated doctors in Africa has the fingerprints of the Jewish community are all over.

"It was very important not to target Jews themselves because this is an issue that everyone can empathize with,"  said Roskies.  "At the same time, as Jews, we feel that we have more of a responsibility to do something for others and Africa is probably the least equipped to help itself at this point, I think now, our generation is starting to realize and make a change."

This responsibility made Roskies connect not just with any African based group, but two doctors with direct ties to Israel. Doctors Dan Engelhard and Dan Turner both run programs in Africa. Engelhard, who regularly commutes between Ethiopia and Israel, is at the helm of the "Art, Joy, Love" initiative which takes care of two orphanages of HIV infected children. As for Turner, he operates the TOT (Training of Trainers) program. Based in Israel, it trains African based doctors to deal with AIDS infected individuals and situations.

For Engelhard, the efforts of Roskies and Africa Is Real are significant as not only do they raise awareness, but his orphanages are in dire need of funding, estimated at $75,000. Luckily for Turner, his efforts are heavily subsidized and does not require the monetary assistance from AIR, however, he is grateful for the exposure and awareness created.

Even with the direct connection to Israel that exists with both doctors, neither Roskies, Engelhard nor Turner forget about their plight. "There are some Jews in Africa that are suffering, but we are not in any way just trying to help them,” said Roskies “We are trying to raise money for anyone and everyone that is affected by these real issues we're attempting to confront."

Still in its infancy and despite the giant leaps forward made by Africa Is Real, Roskies often runs into dissenters from the Jewish community who argue that the Jewish community should be concentrating on issues directly affecting them. For that, he answers that these individuals should not be close minded as both issues can co-exist.

"We would not have started this project had we not had entire faith in the Jewish community, specifically in Montreal [To support both Israeli and African issues]," he said. "We support Israel one hundred percent [But] there is a problem in the world and we feel that something has to be done about it right now."  

Unfortunately, Roskies has received criticism regarding the direct connection of Africa Is Real to Judaism and Israel. From the Jewish Star which dots the the title of the organization name to the official colors of blue and white, individuals have been turned away due to the not so subtle affiliations, and especially on university and high school campuses, where AIR has developed a huge following, this issue is gaining more ground.

"I hope that those who do not accept us for our religion can accept us for our message at least," said Roskies. "The situation in Darfur involves Muslims, so you may ask why is it so important that Jews have to help Muslims? We're not helping Muslims, we're helping human kind -  we're helping people who need help."

Despite some adverse reaction, Roskies' still held hope that his faith in the Jewish community was not blind. Months later, he has received a resounding voice of approval.

"[The reaction has] been something that I could not have grasped or dreamed of in a million years,â" he said.  We've  gotten responses from an intern from MTV in the New York City to a mother in Boston whose son wants to raise money for us for his Bar Mitzvah project."

When looking back at what was merely a dream only months ago, Roskies is still amazed how quickly the message has spread on campus and through the internet. "I started this not knowing if people should accept our mission, and I was a little scared,"  he admitted.

Nonetheless, over the past few months, Roskies, like Africa Is Real, has grown; however, he realizes that there is much more out there, not only for him, but for the organization.

"It's that one extra step, that urge that you need to do more,"  he said. "It's important not just to do well, but to do good."

For information on Africa Is Real, please visit their website at:

About the Writer

Daniel Smajovits is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on All it takes is one: Africa Is Real

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By Daniel on February 10, 2007 at 05:42 pm
Very interesting, in fact, I would really like to get involved. I think its so impressive how one student can start such a campaign.
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