A Summer with Firelight

children in a circle When one talks about a summer in Santa Cruz, such romantic images might come to mind such as surfing at the point, sauntering through the mall, or hiking through the redwoods. Perhaps my romantic ideals are slightly skewed, as I chose to spend my summertime writing summaries of documents that address ways to improve the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. Romantic? Well, perhaps not, but it has certainly been challenging and thought provoking.

I first became interested in Firelight when I was encouraged by Marie Laugharn, the wife of Firelight’s executive director Peter Laugharn, to volunteer for Les Enfants de Dieu, a center for street children in Kigali, Rwanda. Les Enfants de Dieu is one of Firelight’s grantees, and after spending three wonderful months with them, I had a desire to learn more about the foundations that invest their time and resources into community organizations such as Les Enfants de Dieu.

For quite some time now, I’ve wanted to pursue a career in the non-profit world. And this dream only grew when my parents started their own non-profit, Karimu International Help Foundation, which raises funds to help rebuild schools in rural Tanzania. As the dream continued to grow and the end of my college career approached, I had a craving to dive into the non-profit world so I could feel better prepared for my hopeful career upon graduation.

During my time spent at Firelight, I analyzed documents written by UNICEF, The Global Plan, and The Global Fund, for the purpose of helping Peter Laugharn and other members of the Coalition of Children Affected by AIDS prepare for their upcoming meetings, especially World AIDS day in Washington D.C. in 2012. One of the major topics of World AIDS Day will be how to effectively eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV, or vertical transmission.

Comparing the philosophies of major foundations helped me realize that there are many challenges in trying to coordinate this worldwide effort to successfully mitigate such a major public health problem. But it has also helped me see the great potential that lies among all these foundations. If they are willing to find common ground in their efforts, I believe they can help redirect the destructive course that HIV and AIDS has taken thus far in the developing world.

I hope I’ve made a contribution to Firelight’s work during my time spent with them, even if it is a microscopic one. But as for me, I can say I’m grateful for the time I’ve had with Firelight as it has helped me continue to dream-- of a world where governments realize the great potential of communities and a world where the needs of vulnerable women and children come first. Wherever I end up in the future, whether it be here in Santa Cruz, or perhaps in Rwanda or Tanzania, I know that Firelight’s work will always inspire me through reminding me that when people bring their passions and dreams together, lives can be changed.


two men standing side by side

Peter Kent-Stoll is in his last year as a public health policy major at the University of California, Irvine. He is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field or in international development.