Tales of Hope
by Kalindi Thomas
HIV/AIDS affects people in all nations at all strata of society. Thanks to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, United Methodists and their partners can fight this disease in various countries through church-, community-, and hospital-based projects. Some projects focus on prevention through awareness, education, and training. Others provide voluntary testing, counseling, antiretroviral drugs, and home-based care. Still others offer care and support for AIDS orphans. The following stories describe the travails and triumphs of a few individuals helped by Global AIDS Fund projects.
St. Paul's Anglican Children Project in Chipata, Zambia, has a motto: "Where communities own their future." While the magnitude of the AIDS pandemic in Zambia can be overwhelming, this project has made universal education, promotion of women's empowerment, and eradication of extreme poverty its top priorities.
A grant from the UM Global AIDS Fund helped to provide 10 bicycles to St. Paul's Home-based Caregivers group. Before, the caregivers had to walk many miles to make home visits. With bicycles, their visits have doubled. "My marriage will now be strong again," says one woman. Before bicycles, she had to spend all day visiting clients and would reach home late and tired. She feels that her bicycle saved her marriage.
Bertha Musukwa, another St. Paul caregiver, says: "I am 56 years old and joined the caregivers' group in January 2008. In our church and community we have lost many members to AIDS-related illnesses that could have been prevented. We used to spend a lot of time visiting families with HIV-positive women who were members of the church. Most of those who died had little or no information about HIV/AIDS. So, as a retired nurse, I felt that my efforts could make an impact if I joined the caregivers' group. Doing so, I would fulfill what the Bible teaches: to love your neighbor as yourself."
Father Dennis Milanzi, director of the project, writes: "People living with HIV/AIDS need everybody's care and support. As people access treatment, they become healthy once more and can resume a productive work life and contribute to their communities. St. Paul's Anglican Children Project has introduced support-network strategies to provide sustainable programs for people living with HIV/AIDS. We have introduced a Pass-On initiative in which support-group members pass on goats to people living with HIV/AIDS. These goats are bred from exotic male goats and local female goats, which makes them resistant to diseases."
Youth Vision in Lusaka
Youth Vision Zambia (YVZ) in Lusaka is an advocacy group working to enhance the role of the legislature in promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights among Zambian youth. The group's goal is to sensitize members of parliament and other key leaders by conducting workshops for politicians, media professionals, and government officials. Amon Mwale, acting executive director of YVZ, writes: "Young people in Zambia are facing many challenges as they enter into adulthood. They are struggling to find their own identities as they grapple with a rapidly changing world. We believe in prioritizing the needs and well-being of young people in all aspects of life. Zambian young people are chasing the dream of a better life. They seek peace, equality, justice, employment, and freedom, along with access to sexual and reproductive health services and information. They strive to make informed choices. Youth Vision Zambia is proud to champion these dreams."
The Orphans & Vulnerable Children's Education, Support, and Care Project (OVC-ESC) was started in 2004 in Zimbabwe. It addresses the needs of the many children whose parents have died of AIDS. Zimbabwe has more than 1 million AIDS orphans, and the number is rising. Through AIDS Orphans' Trusts, the Zimbabwe Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church has been helping these children for many years.
Thanks to a generous donation by a United Methodist couple from the US Midwest, UMCOR was able to establish the OVC-ESC project in collaboration with Dr. Peter O. Fasan, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Africa University. The project has supported nearly 3,000 children in 50 schools by providing fees, books, uniforms, food, and some health care. When the children graduate from school, they learn a trade that helps them become self-sufficient. Thus far, 25 students have successfully completed their vocational training and are gainfully employed. Now 71 are enrolled in the vocational-training program. Three of their stories follow.
Brian Makarange is a 22-year-old from Mutare whose father died when he was 5 years old. His mother is now very ill, and Brian lives with her and his two younger siblings. When Brian was growing up in the Zimunya area of Mutare District, he and his family were very poor, with few resources.
In 2004, he was registered with the OVC-ESC project while a student at Gwese Secondary School. The project provided him with school fees, uniforms, and food. Brian said that, for the first time in his life, he was "going to school with shoes on my feet and a full stomach."
Brian showed good progress in his studies and passed his examinations. After his secondary-school education, the OVC-ESC project selected him for a vocational-training program run by the Manicaland Training for Enterprises Trust in Magamba. There, Brian completed a welding and metal-fabrication course. "Now, I am able to make bread trays, carts, metal window frames, and window bars, among other designs," Brian writes. "The assistance I received from the OVC-ESC project and the money I earn on jobs have enabled me to look after my two siblings and provide them with food, clothing, and soap. I am deeply grateful."
Grace Matare is 20 years old and travels to Chitora village in Mutare District to visit her younger brother, who lives with their aunt. Their mother died in 1993. Three years later, their father passed away too, most likely from AIDS. Grace writes: "I suffered with my brother. Being a child-headed family, our life was difficult and securing food was hard. At times we would go for days without a meal. We sometimes received food from neighbors."
The OVC-ESC project registered Grace in 2005 and assisted her with her secondary-school education. After passing her examinations, she enrolled in the teenage vocational-training program at the Magamba training center, where she currently studies garment construction, design, and dressmaking. Grace's wish is to have a sewing machine so that she can open her own shop and help her brother and grandparents. "I find the course very interesting," she writes, "because now I am able to make T-shirts, suits, and different styles of clothing that are in fashion. I would like to thank the people of the OVC-ESC project for the assistance they have given me up to this date. May the Lord continue to richly bless them."
Yvonne Tapiwa Chebanga is a "double orphan," having lost both her parents to AIDS. She completed secondary school in 2002 at the Hartzell High School on the United Methodist Old Mutare Mission campus. Then she gained admission to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Africa University, but she was not able to attend for lack of funds.
In 2004, she applied to the OVC-ESC project for assistance. She was then admitted to a bachelor of arts degree program at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. The OVC-ESC project provided her with tuition fees, boarding costs, and other expenses to enable her to study there. During her vacations, she worked at Africa University to help the OVC-ESC project register new orphans and vulnerable children. In 2008, she graduated with a B.A. from the University of Zimbabwe and secured a job with Life Ministry (Campus Crusade for Christ), an organization that provides spiritual support to many students in Zimbabwe. By carefully managing her income, she was able to buy a plot of land in a Harare suburb. She has a passion for her work and has begun helping other children, especially "double orphans," in her spare time.
Mursan Public Health Center's Dhabha Project in Mursan, India, targets long-distance truck drivers who risk contracting HIV/AIDS from commercial sex workers. Reidun Refsdal, a United Methodist missionary from Norway who directs the Mursan Public Health Center, set up the Dhabha Project on the Delhi-Agra highway. The Global AIDS Fund has provided project funding for the past three years.
The project offers education, counseling, and HIV testing at truck stops. The drivers find it convenient to get tested where they stop for rest. The staff refers those who test positive to the nearest government hospital for counseling and treatment. The project has also produced audiotapes, with music and messages about HIV/AIDS, so that drivers can listen and learn while they drive. Ms. Refsdal writes: "Hundreds of truck drivers have benefited from the information, testing, and counseling provided by the Dhabha Project. The Government of India has recognized this unique intervention and supports the program in many ways." She also shared the two stories that follow.
Deepak Sharma is a 25-year-old who worked as a truck driver in northern India. The Mursan Public Health Center of the Methodist Church in India tested Deepak for HIV at one of its Dhabha Project roadside sites. He was found to be positive. When he came to the Mursan Health Center, he had a fever, was weak, and had lost weight. He told Ms. Refsdal: "I was a truck driver. During my trips, I used to visit commercial sex workers. After driving a truck for 1½ years, I felt my health was not good. At the Mursan Center, the staff counseled and treated me.
"I was then referred to the government hospital in Meerut," Deepak continued, "where the doctors gave me antiretroviral drugs. Within a few months, my health began to improve. At the Meerut hospital, I met a young woman who had become HIV-positive after receiving a blood transfusion. In time, we got married and are now living happily together, but we decided not to have children. After I became HIV-positive, I lost my job, but now I'm working in a community-care center for HIV-positive people. I'm also helping my father in his general store. I am very happy. Even though my wife and I are both HIV-positive, we live a very normal life. We want to be an example for others."
Ramesh came to the Mursan Public Health Center in July 2004, with fever, weakness, a cough, and weight loss that had been increasing for five months. "When I came to the Mursan Center," he explained," I had been sick for a long time and was taking medicines without any relief. The doctor advised me to get tested, and I found I was HIV-positive. I did not know what that meant, but I was very ill. I had dropped out of school because my father could not afford the school fees. I had a relationship with a woman whose husband was a truck driver.
"After some time, my health became worse," Ramesh continued. "I was advised to go to the Mursan Center. There, the staff talked a lot with my father and me. The staff, doctor, and field workers even visited me in my village. They sent me to the medical college hospital in Meerut, where I was tested and given medicines. After taking them for 5 to 6 months, my health began to improve and I was feeling very good. The Mursan Center gave me a scholarship, and I began attending school again. I completed high school and am now in my second year of study for a B.A.
"Besides this," he said, "I am also working as a part-time teacher in a private school. Recently, I received training as a community health worker for HIV-positive people in Aligarh. Now I am helping others to get treatment and help. I have decided not to get married. I am 23 years old, but I feel that I have a good and normal life."
Bombay Methodist AIDS Program
The Bombay Regional Conference of the Methodist Church in India has started, through its churches, an education, training, counseling, and income-generating project for HIV/AIDS-affected women in the slums of the Pune area. The women contracted HIV/AIDS from their husbands and were cast out from their homes after their husbands died. The project trains clergy and lay leaders to educate congregations to form support groups and empower the women. The Rev. S. M. Chandorikar, director of the Methodist AIDS Program (MAP), shared the following story about a beneficiary of the Global AIDS Fund program.
"Vandana Pandit is a 35-year-old woman from a poor Christian family in Limbgaon Khairi, a village in Maharashtra State," Rev. Chandorikar writes. "Her parents married her off at a young age to a man who worked as a driver. Vandana had two children. During her pregnancies, she returned to her parents' home, as was the custom. During her absence, her husband had a relationship with another woman and also with commercial sex workers while on his trips. He developed AIDS and died in 2001.
"By this time, Vandana was also infected. The news spread in her village and people began to discriminate against her. She was not allowed to work in the fields, and her children could not attend school. Many times she thought of committing suicide.
"One day, she attended a 'Facing AIDS' program that we conducted at the Methodist Church in Chitali, a nearby village. Moved by the service and the program, she witnessed to everyone, saying, 'Now my Lord is my healer. Even though the whole world has put me out, the Lord is taking care of me.' Others then opened their hearts and accepted her in the church.
"Then Vandana began to contact HIV-positive persons in the villages and prayed with them. She would take them to the hospital for treatment. She brought many to the MAP office for counseling and advice. The Lord has changed her life and is using her to give others hope."
Date posted: Nov 01, 2009