Christina Thomson and Derek Alton
Christina Thomson and Derek Alton

U of G students Christina Thomson and Derek Alton are on a mission, a mission of education, a mission of hope.

They are “re-launching” the University’s Bracelet of Hope campaign with the goal of seeing the red-and-white beaded bracelets on the wrist of every first-year student on campus.

U of G began selling the bracelets in 2006 as part of a larger community effort spearheaded by Guelph doctor Anne-Marie Zajdlik. Her initial goal was to raise $1 million for an AIDS clinic in Lesotho, South Africa, an epicentre of Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The U of G initiative spread and more than 115,000 bracelets have been sold across Canada and in the United States and Britain.

“But now, a lot of students on campus are not aware of what the bracelets mean,” says Alton, a fourth-year political science major. “They may see them on people’s wrists, but they don’t know why they are being worn or what they represent.”

The beaded bracelets are sold for $5 each. The money supports a number of programs in Lesotho and in KwaZulu-Natal, where the bracelets are made by women at a craft co-operative started to reduce poverty and support AIDS orphans in that community.

Equally important to Thomson and Alton, the bracelets are a visible and symbolic way for people to show that they are committed to improving conditions for people around the world. And they say it’s important to get students engaged during their first semester at U of G.

“First-year students can have a lasting role in the bracelet campaign; ideally they will stay connected during all their undergraduate years,” says Thomson, who is in her final year at U of G, majoring in political science and history.

“We also believe the campaign has the potential to kick-start involvement not only in this specific campaign but in social justice initiatives and the wider community in general. It can set them up for a lifetime of community engagement, activism and creating a better future for themselves and the world.”

The new Bracelet of Hope campaign will be launched Sept. 23 with an event in the Bullring from 7 to 9 p.m. It will include an unveiling of the promotion’s vision and goals and a screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary A Closer Walk about the global AIDS epidemic.

Bracelets will be available at the event and are also being sold at locations across campus, including at the bookstore, student residences, Centre Six and the OVC cafeteria.

Students will be asked to sign a “Hope” pledge to illustrate their support for the bracelet campaign and the larger U of G goal of working to improve life around the globe.

The pledge is intended to ensure the bracelets do not become regular accessories, the students say. “It’s about awareness and education. We want to generate discussion about why the campus is involved in this,” Thomson says.

She heard about the Bracelet of Hope campaign during her first year on campus and bought a bracelet. But after spending a summer working in a children’s school and orphanage in Botswana, her perspective on the bracelet’s meaning changed. “Before I left Canada, I knew what AIDS meant, but seeing the people and putting a face to the devastation really changed things for me; it really changed me.”

Alton also got involved in Bracelets of Hope during his first year on campus after hearing Zadjlik speak about her experiences in Lesotho and her goals for building an AIDS clinic. “The bracelet suddenly had deep meaning for me,” says Alton. I want to help bring the momentum back, make it part of the U of G culture and help students understand the hope that the bracelets symbolize.”