HIV/AIDS Foundation hosts charity dinner at La Roche

Two friends join to fight disease

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They came from two very different backgrounds, but they have united in a cause.

Bosco Muyango grew up in Uganda and had lost both of his parents to the AIDS epidemic by the time he was 14. He and his siblings were left not only orphans, but struggling to survive.

Endrias Zewde grew up in a well-to-do family in Ethiopia. His knowledge of hardship came from a friend who had lost his mother at a young age.

The two met when they both came to La Roche College in McCandless as undergraduate students and became good friends. That is when Mr. Zewde learned about his friend's parents.

"To me, it seemed an unbearable loss," he said.

Mr. Muyango, 37, who still lives in McCandless, came to the U.S. through the Pacem in Terris program at La Roche for students from under-developed countries. The program was led by the late Monsignor William Kerr who was president of the college at the time.

"That scholarship changed my life. It was here that I felt I was empowered and the possibilities were limitless," Mr. Muyango said.

Mr. Zewde, 34, and now living in Washington, D.C., also came to La Roche through the Pacem program.

After they both finished their undergraduate degrees -- Mr. Muyango in 2000 with a bachelors degree in business and Mr. Zewde in 2003 with a bachelors degree in graphics design -- they both went on to graduate school, but remained friends and in close contact.

Mr. Muyango graduated with an MBA from Point Park University in 2012 and works as Trans America a workforce and operations manager. Mr. Zewde graduated from Clemson University with a masters in graphics communications and works as a designer for CACI International.

Last year, the two decided to honor Mr. Muyango's late parents and help others facing HIV and AIDS by creating the Mutete Foundation.

"My story is so totally different than Bosco's, but that is what makes it so beautiful, we were able to come together for this one cause," Mr. Zewde said.

Mr. Muyango explained the organization's mission.

"Our goal is to serve families impacted by HIV and AIDS in Kampala, Uganda, and Kigali, Rwanda, but also we want to educate our community in Pittsburgh," he said.

Mr. Muyango's brother, James, is a pastor in Rwanda and works with those affected by AIDS there. His sister, Florence, lives in Kampala and is a volunteer with Mutete in Uganda.

"We want to work with other organizations not compete with them, to assist people," Mr. Muyango said.

In addition to educating the community both here and in Uganda and Rwanda, the Foundation raises money to help assist families facing AIDS and the conditions that often accompany the disease -- unemployment and poverty.

Mr. Muyango said they are also in the midst of a fundraising campaign to purchase land for the families.

"We want to have community agricultural program and activities to support our food banks," he said. The organization has also created a partnership with John Hopkins University School of Public Health.

"Students in master's programs there help design HIV/AIDS awareness and education programs to benefit their local city which can be replicated in East Africa," Mr. Muyango said.

They are hoping to form the same type of partnership with La Roche.

The college is hosting a formal dinner fundraiser from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday in the Zappala College Center on campus.

"La Roche College is honored to support the Mutete Foundation by offering the Zappala College Center on our campus as the location for the foundation's inaugural dinner. The founders of the Mutete Foundation received their degrees from La Roche as scholars in the Pacem in Terris program," said Sister Candace Introcaso, La Roche president.

Mr. Muyango and Mr. Zewde are exactly what the late Msgr. Kerr had hoped for when he founded Pacem in Terris, she said.

"It was his vision that the international students who received scholarships through the program would someday use their educations to make a difference in their home countries. That is exactly what Bosco and Endrias are doing through the Mutete Foundation -- we are extremely proud and supportive of their efforts," she said.

The dinner will feature an African dance performance, fashion show, raffle, auction and choral performance of "We are the World."

In the past year, the Foundation has reached out to 70 families in Rwanda and Uganda, but Mr. Muyango said they hope their efforts impact more families.

"Our goal is to help them today, but to also help them become independent," he said.

Tickets are $25. Information or tickets: 412-294-6260 or www.mutetehiv.org.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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