Learning to Embrace AIDs in East Africa
East Africa is a region with a high prevalence of AIDS, with Tanzania having the sixth highest rate in the world. CRWRC’s important work in HIV and AIDS has taken an approach called Embrace AIDS. This means helping people to live well with HIV and AIDS, to take control of their situation and to make healthy and responsible choices-- hopefully choices that reflect God’s love and God’s plan for their community. It also means teaching churches to talk about HIV, and respond in love, effectively and proactively. I have spent much time since my last newsletter becoming familiar with CRWRC’s work in HIV and AIDS response as part of my orientation and because we are starting a new Embrace AIDS project in Tanzania. Here are a few glimpses into the work of CRWRC and our partner churches that I have seen in the last few months.
Training and Equipping In Dar es Salaam
In Dar es Salaam, CRWRC is supporting one of our partners, the coastal diocese of the African Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT-Coastal). The diocese trains area communities in HIV and AIDS response. This region has the second highest prevalence rate of HIV in the country. To start this program, CRWRC’s HIV and AIDS coordinator for the East Africa region (Nema Aluku) was in Dar in June to oversee a one-week training session for 14 community trainers who would then be teaching the material in their own communities. I was able to sit in on this training and learn along with the other trainees.
Together, we tackled questions such as:
• Who is getting HIV and AIDS? Is it immoral people? Is it people from our churches?
• How do deeply-ingrained traditional cultural practices interfere with changing lifestyles and attitudes?
• Why is the stigma of HIV and AIDS so destructive to effective prevention?
• What should relationships look like, if you do, and even if you don’t have HIV?
• How can we help people to correctly see HIV, see themselves, change their habits, and become assertive, healthy, and godly? How can we help churches to be more comfortable talking about sexuality?
Speaking of Sexuality….
As you can imagine with a training session on HIV and sexuality, there were some awkward moments at the start, particularly for me as I was also learning Swahili at the same time. I soon learned to use my dictionary instead of asking Nema … “Um, what does that word mean?” “Oh, I see... haha...”
Openness in discussing sexuality is especially necessary in the community, so we were all soon laughing at ourselves and our awkwardness about the topic and participating fully in the activities. Having finished their orientation, the trainers have since gone out into their home communities and are training villagers on HIV and AIDS, and the communication and relationship skills that we were taught.
This group is working to care for 250 orphans and vulnerable children, helping them avoid the risks of a dangerous and immoral lifestyle.
Encouraging Stories from Kenya
CRWRC Tanzania staff and I went to Kenya for a very informative and inspiring learning tour of HIV projects. Sitting in wicker chairs under the tall trees in a village in Western Kenya, we heard stories of lives changed due to Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs), and the support and training people received from CRWRC and the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK). Nema leaned over and whispered to me, “Which of these members do you think is HIV positive?” I could not distinguish them. People described as having been near death are now able to work and live much more healthily. Some participants were making and selling wicker chairs like the ones we sat on. Others told of the pig farming project they’d started that isnow profitableenough to provide food and school fees for their children.
Furthermore, this group is working to care for 250 orphans and vulnerable children, helping them avoid the risks of a dangerous and immoral lifestyle.
Another partner in Kenya, ACK-Mount Kenya Christian Community Services, is redefining “masculinity” among community youth and empowering girls with life skills and the knowledge they need to succeed.
Results in Geita
Geita is a town with a gold mine-based economy in Northwest Tanzania. Along with a miner’s lifestyle comes a high prevalence of HIV that then affects the larger community. AICT churches in Geita are working hard to handle the needs this epidemic creates. In the village of Kasamwa, the “Amani” group, which consists of people living with HIV, has worked for years to develop a pig-raising business. Their endeavour is now profitable enough tofinance a permanent building forthe pigs and attract governmentfinancial assistance for the project. This is similar to the widow’s group I mentioned in my last newsletter. Only a few years before, painful stigmatization labelling them as “unclean” kept these women house-bound. Today, they care for themselves and for each other.
In contrast to this group, I visited a woman who is being cared for by AICT Geita’s Palliative Care Program. When her husband learned of her HIV-positive diagnosis, he abandoned her, leaving her to rely on her brother’s family. That family was then ostracized from the community, leaving them feeling very alone. This woman has a debilitating throat tumour, possibly cancerous, and faces many barriers to treatment. AICT Geita is walking alongside her, to help not only her, but also to change the community’s attitude. The family is extremely grateful, but it is a difficult journey for them.
With God’s power and your support, the church is making a difference in East Africa, but there are still many people in the community who are losing their battle against HIV and AIDS. We thank you for your prayers and are grateful for your financial support as we continue this extremely important work.
World Renew Tanzania