Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Community Participation: Turning the Puppets Into HIV Battlefronts

She went to the Lunzu Voluntary HIV Counseling and Testing (VCT) centre as a level-headed woman of the world, but soon became a desolate insomniac because, as she discovered, listening to the counselor’s message demanded the repression of all her powerful instincts.

Beatrice knew, from the pre-blood testing counseling session, that to visit a VCT centre was to prepare for two possible things: an HIV-negative or HIV-positive) sero-status result.

As the counselor went about unraveling her age, relationship status, love life history, among others- their voice was a communion…until that final message, after the results, left a bitter taste in Beatrice’s mouth.

“It was difficult when I first learned about my HIV sero-status,” Beatrice says.

She says learning about it had the force of alienating her from everything in the world, and that happiness lost its originality.

“My body became smaller; I have put up weight now,” Beatrice says.

Today, facing Beatrice- a shy, sensitive woman who once just wanted to refine herself by getting out of existence- is an opportunity to appreciate that there is life- healthy life- after realising that HIV exists in one’s body.

That how it felt like when Beatrice shared her story with people those that gathered at Lunzu Community Centre Ground in mid-August, as part of a project-tour conducted by Pastor Matimelo Sinatra, who ministers at Kings Community Church in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Matimelo was in Malawi in his capacity as Africa Director for ‘E3 Initiative’, a United Kingdom-based Christian charity.

Matimelo visited an E3 Initiative-funded ‘Restoring Hope’ project run by the Word Alive Commission for Relief and Development (Wacrad) through Lunzu Pastors Fraternal.

Beatrice told the gathering that she is now over the sadness that plagued her life in those early days.

“I am fine now, and take care of my baby. It’s because of the psycho-social support I receive, I think,” Beatrice says.

Lunzu Pastors Fraternal chairperson, Bishop Stuart Chikwatu, says members of the clergy have become front-line combatants in the battle against HIV and Aids.

“Churches now provide counseling and psycho-social support. They have also helped reduce incidences of HIV-based stigma and discrimination,” Chikwatu says.

These are views shared by Wacrad’s director, Phoebe Nyasulu, who says the initiative has put communities in a better position to respond to socio-economic challenges posed by HIV and Aids. She says the people of Blantyre (T/A Makata, Kapeni, Somba, Lundu), Lilongwe, and Mzimba, have also changed their attitude towards HIV-positive people.

“Since 2007, we have built grassroots’ churches capacities, helped link these people up with other organisations, imparted business skills to them so that they can be able to secure loans. All these efforts make the initiative self-sustaining, even after the current funding phases out in February 2013,” Nyasulu says.

On his part, Matimelo says the indigenous church is key to solving challenges facing Africa. He says E3 has over 20 projects in various parts of Africa including Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Swaziland, Brazil, Philippines and India.

“Local African churches are often the most effective means of transforming communities. They are best-placed to meet local needs because they understand the issues first-hand and can offer sustainable solutions. Their members are motivated and committed to serving their community and responding to practical, emotional and spiritual needs, as they share the love of God,” Matimelo says.

He asks people not to underrate indigenous churches.

“(Of course) the 'typical' church leaders of today are very different to those of a century ago. Rather than being white, western, educated, professional and middle-class, they are non-western, have limited formal education and are often self-supporting. But it is these local leaders that are E3 Initiative’s concern,” Matimelo says.

Indeed, Beatrice is a typical example of what local church leaders can achieve. She was full of hope at Lunzu that day. After offering people- including Blantyre District HIV and Aids Coordinator, Loveness Chikumba- an insight into how her life has been, she left the microphone to the director of ceremonies. And left the podium.

Just, then, her baby- left with female friends sitting under the black plastic tent- cried. Beatrice walked towards her, grabbed her tenderly, took her behind the tent, and sat on a yellow plastic chair under a mango tree.

The breast-feeding started. She was so positive about life. So positive about her baby’s future, too. Life goes on.

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