The 2011 HIV and AIDS tour was a blast! We had participants from Canada, the U.S., and Kenya. Wow, what a dynamic group.
I cannot claim to voice the experiences of each participant, since they all had varying reasons for participating in the tour, but I can say that we saw, heard, felt, and emerged transformed from 12 days of interaction with communities in Malawi, Mozambique, and with CRWRC staff. I thank God for each participant because I know in my heart that the people who left North America and Kenya as HIV tour participants on the 16th & 17th of July were touched in a special way. I also know that only they can share their stories.
I do hope that they have an opportunity in their respective homes, communities, congregations, offices to share what they saw, heard, and felt during the tour. I do hope that others will experience through them the work that God continues to do through CRWRC staff and partners. In the event that they do not get an opportunity to share in their congregations, I pray that they will not despair, but find other avenues to share, yes! Share their personal stories.
I want to thank Helen, Kyla, Jen, Renee, Marlys, Patrick, Nancy, Mary, Linda, Larry, Isti, and all the partner staff who made this year’s tour a success. I thank God for each one of you, and as we prayed together, “May God bless the works of your hands...”
The tour was a reflection of brokenness, pain, and restoration. For me as the HIV and AIDS response coordinator, interacting with the men, women, girls, and boys participating in CRWRC Embrace AIDS interventions was a blessing, an encouragement…. Hmm! Encouragement resonated in all the groups we visited. “We are encouraged by your coming…” To some that might mean nothing, but to these communities, having visitors from faraway lands interact with them, dance with them, eat and fellowship with them was a sign that together, we are indeed the body of Christ.
In both Malawi and Mozambique, youth are learning to live God-fearing lives and to protect themselves from HIV infections through CRWRC. As one 10-year-old girl commented, “I want to have HIV-negative children when I grow up.” Married couples in the programs are also experiencing change. For instance, in very conservative communities where men do not sit next to their wives in public even during church services, there is a shift in how they relate with each other, such as, “whispering into each other’s ears with a smile….walking side by side…sitting next to each other….” Wow, that is God at work! All this was made possible through the financial support for CRWRC’s Embrace AIDS Campaign.
I wish I could say we are now done and moving on to other critical issues in poverty besides AIDS. But not yet--HIV is still with us, and we still have work to do in the communities we visited. Many of these groups and individuals got a “kick start” in addressing HIV prevention, control, and support through youth-to youth-interventions like “Sankhani Moyo” (Choose Life), “Faithfulness in Marriage” group sessions for couples in both countries, and home-based care for bedridden individuals. We are just scratching the surface of the AIDS epidemic here, and our programs are starting to become embedded in the church and community structures. Communities are beginning to raise funds through their home-based care groups – groups designed to replenish the health kits at the community level.
Most recently, CRWRC and its partners have started to scale up our interventions, like the Faithfulness in Marriage groups, to include greater community dialogue through awareness raising and stigma reduction sessions called, “Stepping Stones.” In another opportunity, CRWRC and partner staff are engaging home-based care groups to begin to manage and restock medicines in the health kit box--which I do hope can result in the establishment of a community-owned dispensary.
CRWRC-Malawi is also engaging women’s groups in saving and borrowing their own funds through a village and savings loan (VSL) account. The groups not only save and borrow, but also make weekly contributions to a social fund. This is a model that the groups want to replicate in HIV support groups, home-based care groups, and youth groups so that the group members can also become more economically empowered. You have to see the faces of the women as they read out their shares! The joy, the dreams….they now realize that they control their economic capabilities. All they need initially is opportunity--through training, a VSL kit, lockbox, and books. A key asset in empowering these groups that we recognized during the HIV tour was providing motor bikes for community development facilitators.
There is one more opportunity that presented itself during the HIV and AIDS Tour—the opportunity for your community and congregation to start up similar interventions to work with youth. As one tour participant said, “Youth in Canada and the U.S. have challenges similar to those of the youth in your communities.” What are you doing about it as an individual and as a church? How are you enabling couples to remain faithful to each other and to God? We can continue to learn from each other. As a staff person, I am available to facilitate introductory sessions in your congregation, or you can also send representatives to us here in the field, to learn from us. During my time in Canada, I will spend time with CRWRC staff going through an introductory Stepping Stones training session. Will you, your community, your congregation take the opportunity to facilitate transformation among youths and couples in HIV and AIDS?
This is my wish list as we head into the upcoming Christmas season:
- That CRWRC will raise more funds for Stepping Stones Trainings
- That individuals will give specifically towards the scaling up of HBC programs in the NRD and Sankhani Moyo IRM programs (With US$30,000 per year per program for the next three years, we can fully fund these interventions!)
- That individuals would give towards the scaling up of VSL programs to boost the HBC community dispensary
- That individuals would give towards the purchase of motorcycles for these passionate community development facilitators
This is my wish list to you and to God for quality and sustainable work in our region. I know that by working together we can continue to facilitate community- and church-owned prevention and faithfulness programs as well as enable communities to address the deep-rooted issues that make them vulnerable to HIV and AIDS through community peer group dialogue sessions and VSL.
Written by Nema Aluku, CRWRC HIV/AIDS Response Coordinator
For more information on Nema Aluku and CRWRC's response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Eastern and Southern Africa, please visit www.crwrc.org/nemaaluku.