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Student Travels to Global Health Summit
November 21, 2005

When Dr. Peter Okaalet was recognized as one of 10 Global Health Heroes during the recent TIME Magazine Global Health Summit (held in early November in New York City), his son Emmanuel, a Calvin College sophomore, was there.

“It’s just great,” Emmanuel said. “I think that’s one of the greatest legacies a man could have and leave for his children.”

Peter Okaalet was honored for pioneering a more redemptive response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Christian leaders in an African continent devoured by the disease.

As Africa director for MAP International, Okaalet has created seminars, a curriculum, even master’s degree programs to enlist pastors and church workers as compassionate activists against the disease.

The three-day summit featured sessions on avian flu, malaria, HIV/AIDS and clean water. Speakers included Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Bono, Paul Farmer and Kofi Annan.

“Movers and shakers in the world,” says Emmanuel Okaalet.

Okaalet notes that the president and CEO of PBS was there and she suggested that there should be more programming focused on the goals the summit set.

“She suggested that every year we have something in the media, on television to show people where the situation is with relation to those goals and deadlines.”

It’s a prospect that appeals to Emmanuel, who is majoring in communication arts and sciences and hopes someday to perhaps produce documentaries.

"Everybody is making documentaries now," he says. "I think it would be good to do one and portray hope. There are problems, but that doesn’t mean that the whole third world is going to be wiped off the face of the planet. There are people who are working to help make the situation better.”

Meanwhile, he is reveling in the joy of becoming a communicator.

"I want to try out everything that’s there," he says. "Try out film, try out broadcast, try out documentaries and sports and TV programs.”

Emmanuel Okaalet says his dad was impelled into his current work by the words of a friend who lay dying of AIDS.

“He asked my dad what he could do to help improve his condition, and my dad said there was nothing he could do, unfortunately. However he was a born again Christian and he believed that there was eternal life through Jesus Christ,” Emmanuel recounts. “This patient suggested that my dad should learn more about this afterlife and eternal life and salvation since there was nothing more he could do with his medical knowledge.”

Okaalet’s quest to redefine his attitude to HIV/AIDS brought his entire family from Uganda, where he was practicing physician, to Nairobi, Kenya where he earned degrees in divinity and theology.

“He felt the church in Africa was not doing all they could to work with HIV/ AIDS patients,” Emmanuel says. “The church leaders did not know how to approach the issue of HIV/AIDS.”

Since joining MAP in 1996, Okaalet has worked to redefine the church’s attitude toward the disease and those who suffer from it.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson