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Rose Hill Senior Explores South Africa’s AIDS Crisis


Fordham College at Rose Hill senior Scott Detrow used money from the Leahey Renaissance Student Award to travel to South Africa last year. The result of the trip was an hour-long radio documentary,Treating the Rainbow Nation: AIDS in South Africa, which drew nationwide attention at the end of last year, and aired a total of five times on New York and San Francisco radio stations. Detrow has a longstanding interest in journalism, anchors a weekly newscast on WFUV and often substitutes on the morning show.

Detrow worked on the newspaper at Milwaukee’s Marquette High School, a Jesuit institution, and started volunteering at WFUV halfway through his freshman year. Upon receiving a letter announcing the Leahey award, Detrow consulted with some news colleagues—he is an intern at NBC and a student producer for “Newsweek on the Air”—and came up with the idea of traveling to Africa and covering the AIDS pandemic on the ground.

“I wanted to do something original and overseas dealing with journalism,” he said. His experience with the University’s Global AIDS Awareness student group heightened his awareness of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, and he focused his proposal on a trip to South Africa.

He was surprised by his project’s acceptance in March 2006, but with the input of the Clinton Foundation and Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Ph.D., of Columbia University, who directs an AIDS research center in Durban, South Africa, he quickly mapped out a rough itinerary. Improvising at some points, he flew around the country, and also spent a week in Lesotho, the independent kingdom within South Africa’s borders. He interviewed patients and workers at hospices, research centers, clinics and orphanages. Most interviews were done in English, although he enlisted the help of translators in some of the townships.

In addition to the documentary, he blogged on a regular basis, and that record later helped him edit the tapes.

“I’ve never really experienced death at close range before, so at first it was really upsetting,” he said, but his initial visit to a Pretoria-area hospice run by a kindly Irish priest had a calming effect.

Back in the U.S., it took him more than a month to edit 10 hours’ worth of interviews into a 57-minute program, which had its debut on WFUV on Oct. 21, 2006. The documentary was picked up from the public radio exchange forum PRX by KQED radio of San Francisco, which aired it three times, and WFUV aired it again on the Saturday after International AIDS Day (Dec. 1).

“My documentary explores the roadblocks that stand in the way of stamping out the disease, namely fundamental misconceptions about HIV/AIDS among the country’s poorer sectors,” said Detrow. “It also looks at the challenges of treating such a large-scale pandemic.”

The Leahey Renaissance Student Award is named in honor of Edward B. Leahey, Jr., M.D., FCRH ’69, and is presented to a student with broad cultural intellectual interests and a record of good academic achievement and service to the college. The award is to be used for foreign study or travel before the beginning of senior year.

Detrow is a political science/English double major and hopes to continue in journalism after graduating. He has covered events at City Hall, the Republican National Convention in 2006, and was awarded a $500 scholarship by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI) for his on-the-spot coverage of U2’s video shoot and “surprise” concert at the Brooklyn Bridge in 2005. He followed the band on foot from Columbus Circle to 20th Street in Manhattan before opting for the subway, filing reports along the route.

By Brian Kluepfel


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