June Wilson in Tanzania
June Wilson, a former Volunteer in Mission and AIDS activist, died on Oct. 15 at the age of 81.
Mrs. Wilson was a widow in her 60s when she went to the isolated town of Kasulu in Tanzania, near the border of Burundi, in 1991. She worked as a secretary for the bishop and volunteered as a teacher in the local school. After two years in the country, she offered this insight about the difference between North American and African values in the Anglican Journal: “People matter more than things here in Africa. It is much more important to spend time greeting a friend than to keep an appointment. If you are expecting a guest or visitor at your office, do not be upset if they show up two hours late….When I first arrived in Africa I used to think it was because they had no concept of time, and I, in my way, was in too much of a hurry. It is most important to greet and appreciate people.”
In 1994, Mrs. Wilson accepted a second posting to teach children at a new church school in Quito, Ecuador. She described clashes between student protesters and police in this 1995 letter published in British Columbia’s Diocesan Post: “These past few days there has been a great deal of fighting outside my apartment. (It’s no wonder the bishop moved his offices.) I live near the university. The students are throwing rocks at the police, and the police are firing tear gas bombs back…. I was just posting a letter when, next thing you know, I and everyone around me were choking and gasping for breath from tear gas.”
Ms. Wilson loved Tanzania and returned in 1996. Unfortunately, she had to come back to Canada in less than a year when she became ill. She was eventually diagnosed with AIDS. Once she received treatment and recovered her health sufficiently, she became an activist, working with AIDS organizations in Victoria, B.C. Her work and story drew the attention of documentary makers Hilary Jones-Farrow and Arthur Holbrook. A vivacious woman in her 70s was not the stereotypical AIDS patient. She agreed to be the subject of their documentary, “Mama June: A Different Perspective on AIDS,” and as a part of it, went back to Tanzania in 2001. By revealing her condition to AIDS groups, and youth and community groups, she hoped to help break down stereotypes and stigmas associated with the disease while she educated people about prevention. (Where and when Mrs. Wilson contracted the disease is unclear; there is a possibility that she was exposed to the virus in a blood transfusion in Canada.)
“She was just a wonderful, enthusiastic, exciting, adventurous person who had a strong sense of calling to be a Volunteer in Mission based on a very strong faith in God, and she was a lot of fun,” said her friend Jill Cruse, Partners in Mission co-ordinator for mission education and personnel.