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Trip to Botswana no vacation for student

Although her trip is more than a month away, Laurentian University student France Labonté can't wait to go to Botswana to participate in a six-week workshop on HIV/AIDS. "Oh my God," she exclaims. "I'm getting more and more excited.
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Although her trip is more than a month away, Laurentian University student France Labonté can't wait to go to Botswana to participate in a six-week workshop on HIV/AIDS.

"Oh my God," she exclaims. "I'm getting more and more excited."

Labonté, 24, is one of 20 Canadian students chosen to participate in the  workshop in the south African country where an estimated 33 percent of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS, the second highest concentration in Africa, next to Swaziland.

It's personal, says Labonté of her reasons for wanting to go.

"If everyone gives a little hand, we're going to make a difference. I'm hoping everyone thinks like I do, and we could all do our little share and reduce the poverty in the world."

Labonté is in her third year of study at Laurentian, taking a double concentration in French and geography. She wants to be a teacher.

A member of Laurentian's World University Service of Canada (WUSC) committee, Labonté was chosen from more than 100 applicants on the basis of academic excellence, community leadership and a demonstrated commitment to international understanding. 

The WUSC committee gets involved in activities around campus to raise money for developing countries. When she heard about the HIV/AIDS workshop and the opportunity to go to Botswana, she knew she had to get involved.

The New Liskeard native explains, "I really want to go because I see stuff on television about poor countries and I feel for them. But I think that if I actually go there, I'll realize how severe it is so I might get more involved and want to contribute more of my time to other organizations and just keep on going."

Stephanie Levine, a WUSC program officer in Ottawa, says the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students like Labonté. She'll be paired off with a student from the University of Botswana and will take part in youth outreach and youth group activities with groups already working in the area.

Labonté will also take part in tours of poor communities in Botswana and will help establish an outdoor gym and sporting facility for the region's youth.

Levine says one of the goals of the trip is to educate young people about HIV/AIDS in an constructive, informal environment.

Another goal is for participants to perform research while in Botswana, producing a case study from their research.

"The research is to contribute to the work of different partner organizations with whom they would be placed," says Levine.

Labonté says she is ready and able to lend a hand. "Whatever they need help doing, we're going to offer our time and help out."

Although the trip to Botswana isn't related to her field of study, Labonté says a career in teaching would be ideal for her because it'll leave her summer months free to do other charitable work.