How gay men are fighting AIDS in Africa
We don’t give ourselves enough credit, and the world certainly doesn’t. But when gay men put our minds to something, we can do anything, even fight and beat AIDS in Africa. For this and many reasons, you’ll love this story.
How Steve Bolinger fought AIDS in Africa [and won]:
How will you change the world?
On episode 14 of the Queer Money® podcast, we talked with the founder of Development in Gardening (DIG), Steve Bolinger. DIG improves the nutrition and livelihoods of some of the most uniquely vulnerable people by teaching them to plant restorative gardens that grow health, wealth, and a sense of belonging, and it all started by trying to improve these for HIV/AIDS patients in Uganda.
Steve grew up in Kansas and moved to Denver after college, where he eventually found his people and came out of the closet. Steve graduated with BA in Finance. His first job, inspired by the movie Wall Street, was as an active trader for a private firm buying 1,000-block shares.
Eventually, his firm closed shop, and, what might’ve seemed like the end of the world, opened up a world of opportunities for Steve.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”That’s the beauty of it. When you start doing what you’re supposed to do it kinda just falls into place. – Steve Bolinger of Development in Gardening (DIG)” quote=”That’s the beauty of it. When you start doing what you’re supposed to do it kinda just falls into place. – Steve Bolinger of Development in Gardening (DIG)” theme=”style3″]
Soon after losing his job, Steve spent nine months traveling the world, experiencing other worlds, and gaining perspective on his world. He started in Australia, went to the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, India, and finally, a couple of stops in Europe.
He moved to San Diego in 2001 and shortly after joined The Peace Corps. While in the Peace Corps, Steve’s boss asked him to do a project for the HIV/AIDS hospital. Many hospitals in these urban regions weren’t equipped to provide food for their patients. Thus, patients had to rely on family to feed them, and sadly many were ignored and left starving because of the stigma with HIV/AIDS. Thus, the Peace Corps, through Steve’s efforts, provided food to the hospital’s kitchens to then feed their patients.
The garden was successful, and its success inspired Steve. Although he loved the fast-paced life of trading, Steve knew there was more to life than earning money and living the “fabulous gay life” he previously wanted. Steve says, “I felt that if I left the Peace Corps to return to the States and get a job, I’d be doing humanity a disservice.” While DIG didn’t come to Steve as an “ah-ha” moment, when it did come to him over the course of a few days, it was the first time he ever felt so at peace with a decision. He eventually started DIG to fight AIDS in Africa to find more meaning in life.
Steve shares the process for filing his 501(c)3 documents and completing the numerous other requirements. Steve says, however, that “DIG wouldn’t exist without the gay community” because it was the queer community that initially and consistently since funded DIG’s endeavors.
Now grandmothers in countries across Africa are teaching their children how to grow sustainable gardens. Children are learning sustainable gardening in school and teaching their parents. For non-profits that teach HIV education, for example, it can take years to prove the education paid off. “With DIG, you know people ‘get it’ when they show you a tomato or they show you a basket of green beans they’re taking to the market to sell,” Steve says.
Not only does Steve’s dream teach communities sustainable, organic farming, it now teaches them how to turn their efforts into small businesses. The lives of HIV patients who were once shunned from their communities are forever changed. Because of their ability to feed and financially support their families with their work, they’re now leaders in their families and business leaders in their communities.
Steve shares that while creating DIG was hard, it wasn’t as hard as he expected. Steve says, “That’s the beauty of it. When you start doing what you’re supposed to do, it kinda falls into place.”
So, how will you improve the world? Share in the comments below.
On this Queer Money Follow-Up are more ways gay men can change the world:
How can you get more Queer Money® podcasts?
✅ Subscribe to the Queer Money® podcast here @ QueerMoneyPodcast
✅ Hear the original Queer Money® episode @ The Trip that Is Changing the Face of AIDS in Africa
We’re David and John Auten-Schneider, the Debt Free Guys (www.debtfreeguys.com) and hosts of the Queer Money® podcast. We help queer people (and allies) live fabulously not fabulously broke by helping them 1) pay off credit card debt, 2) become part- or full-time entrepreneurs and 3) save and invest for retirement.