Blue Rodeo Frontman Tours AIDS-plagued Uganda


 TORONTO (CP) -- It's an eerie feeling to look around and realize you're the only representative of a particular age group.  That's what happened to Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy recently when he toured Uganda, where the World Health Organization says a national AIDS epidemic threatens to cut the life expectancy to about 30 by the year 2010.

 "There's no people my age there," said the 41-year-old frontman of the Toronto-based country-rock band named 1995 group of the year at the Juno Awards.

 "They're all dead. There's younger people, older people but all the middle-aged people are gone."  He met a 63-year-old woman who was looking after her 10 granchildren. Her six adult children had all died of AIDS.

 Cuddy is the latest Canadian rocker to globetrot on fact-finding trips sponsored by World Vision Canada, an international humanitarian and development relief agency.  Sarah McLachlan and Tom Cochrane have also traveled overseas for World Vision.

 Terry David Mulligan encouraged Cuddy to join a World Vision tour of development and relief projects, something the MuchMusic broadcaster has done several times.

 Cuddy agreed, though he had some reservations about going over with a Christian-based organization.

 "I'm not a Christian. I don't necessarily believe in the intolerance that is often associated with big Christian organizations," he said in a recent interview.

 "I was very up front about my concerns with World Vision and they said that's not going to be a problem," said Cuddy, who will continue to tour this summer with his bandmates in support of their sixth album, Nowhere to Here.  World Vision is based on Christian principles but not associated with any particular denomination.

 The organization wanted to enlist the services of Cuddy to help raise the profile of an annual fundraising event called The 30-hour Famine.  Started in 1972, participants go without food for 30 hours while collecting donations to help care for needy children overseas. This year's target is $2 million.

 A video showing Cuddy in Uganda will be sent to schools across Canada.  "Kids identify with these people," says Phillip Maher, an official with the relief agency.

 "If someone they listen to endorses a program and has gone over to see what's going on, then they can be confident their money is going to where it's supposed to be going."

 Despite the North American perception that all of central Africa is drought-ridden and suffering from starvation, that's not the case in Uganda, Cuddy says.

 The biggest problems are rebel fighting and AIDS. Figures show 1.8 million people or 10 per cent of Uganda's population has HIV.