This summer, I had the privilege of traveling to Malawi and Mozambique on the HIV/AIDS Discovery Tour. What an experience! I not only had the opportunity to get to know some of the members of our churches in Canada and the USA, but was also able to meet some of our staff, partners, and most importantly, the families and individuals in villages who are benefiting from your support. It was such a joy to be welcomed with song and dance as we entered each village. The women’s voices singing out in their high pitched celebration cries, the traditional drums booming, and men, women and children clapping, singing and dancing as they received us. It was such an honour to be received in this way!
While in Malawi and Mozambique, our team was able to meet with several groups connected to the programs funded by the EmbraceAIDS campaign. Some of my most treasured memories were with the church and school-based youth groups who have made a decision to commit to abstinence before marriage. They meet together regularly and discuss the dangers of HIV and how to prevent it, while keeping each other accountable and supporting each other throughout the process. Some members of the groups even create and act out dramas and sing songs in their churches, schools and communities warning others of the effects of lifestyle choices that could lead to contracting HIV/AIDS. These young people are so committed, creative, determined and they care so much about each other and their communities. I was so touched by their hearts to serve and join together for a common cause that could ultimately save their lives and the lives of so many into their future.
We also had an opportunity to meet with volunteers in the communities who have offered their time to be “care givers” to those suffering from the effects of HIV/AIDS and who are in some cases completely bed-ridden. These individuals are trained and equipped with simple medical supplies and medications. They visit the sick and make sure that they have access to the anti-viral medications that they require. Results of these connections have been tremendous. The care-givers reported a drastic reduction in deaths related to HIV/AIDS as well as a significant reduction in those confined to their beds. The support, love and access to medications that they received have contributed to the increase in their overall health and wellbeing, and has given them the hope and strength they need to live with HIV.
Another aspect of the program support was the “HIV/AIDS Support Groups”. We sat with these wonderful members of the community as they described how their lives have been changed through the programs, training, support and assistance that they have received through CRWRC and our local partners in their communities. Their hearts were happy and their faith strong, as they spoke of how they were once in despair, burdened with a “curse”, feeling that there was no hope and their life was over, ashamed to seek help or talk about their HIV status. Now, with the encouragement of the staff and volunteers, they have come together in groups to support each other. Members of the group talked about how they support each other through encouragement, helping each other in planting and harvesting crops, visiting each other when one is sick. Some of the groups have a small savings and loan program that they have started within their group. They also work together to collect medications, as the clinics are often long distances from their village and it is costly to travel. So, they collect money and send one person to travel and collect the medications for all. They spoke of the trust and respect that they have for each other, of feeling secure, and feeling healthy and hopeful.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the programming in these communities was the “Couples Faithfulness Groups”. These groups consist of couples who have committed to remain faithful in marriage. In some cases, one or both of the partners have contracted HIV. These couple meet together and talk openly and honestly about the temptations of life in their culture and circumstances and how through good communication and commitment to their vows, they can help prevent the spread of this deadly disease of HIV/AIDS. They recognize that the need for money is a core issue when it comes to unfaithfulness. Many of the groups have also started small savings and loans programs within their communities which help to assist in alleviating poverty and supports families to start businesses, plant fields, and send their children to school.
On our last day in Malawi, we visited one of the savings and loan groups. What a treat for us! We watched as the group celebrated together, each contributing to the social fund which is set aside for emergencies, and then one by one coming forward to put their money into their accounts for saving. For each 100 Kwacha (about $1.25 CAD) the whole group would give a loud clap and shout! This celebration of each person’s commitment was so moving and really touched each of us on the team. We could see the pride and joy that they felt in being able to contribute, knowing that this was not a hand out, but something they were doing for themselveswith faith in God that he will multiple their giving. Members of the group gave testimony of how their lives have been changed through loans that they received to start small businesses that are now thriving, or to plant fields that are now producing harvest, or to be able to send their children to school. We celebrated with them and gave to thefund in an offering of thanks for all that God is doing among them.
Without a doubt, I can say that the support given through CRWRC is impacting lives in a powerful way. These communities have benefited through multi-facet programming, training and support which has led them to a point where they are developing self-sustaining methods of long-term support amongst themselves. Seeing this transformation first hand was so inspiring and confirms my own personal faith in the methods and practices of CRWRC in community development efforts.
Together, with these communities, we are working to see lives come into true “shalom”, and a faith and trust in God who is transforming them. We thank you so much for your continued support!
Written by Renee Scobel, CRWRC Associate Director for Church Relations