This is a rather long post I’m afraid, but I really hope that everyone who is following my blog will take the time to read it.
While I was in Kasungu, Malawi I went to the ATM, and while waiting in line I noticed a man wearing a shirt with a red ribbon on it. When I looked closer, I saw that his shirt also had Stephen Lewis Foundation printed on the sleeve. We started talking and it turned out that he works for CSCD (Centre for Sustainable Community Development). They support people in the area who are affected by HIV/AIDS, and they receive funding from the Stephen Lewis Foundation. He kindly invited me back to the office and suggested I visit one of their projects on the following Monday.
So instead of cycling out with the group the following day, I arranged to stay in Kasungu an extra day and went back to the CSCD office. I was warmly welcomed by Linley and Asayire, two of the dedicated workers from CSCD, and had the privilege of joining them to visit some members of their support group, who are the front line workers supporting people of the community.
Some of the things, but by no means all, that CSCD do to support people in the community are to provide bicycles for people to go and get treatment, provide medical kits with antiretroviral drugs and painkillers, empower support groups to grow their own crops of maize and soy, and provide counselling.
I had the honour of meeting a woman, whom I’ll call J, who has been infected by HIV, probably by her husband. She is one of the recipients of support from the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
J, who is a 52 year old single mother of 7 and grandmother of 9, had herself tested about 6 years ago after her husband left because she had been feeling unwell. While it is physically quite easy to get tested, and results are back in a day. But mentally and emotionally it is not so easy, and it takes a lot of courage. There is a still a stigma attached to having this cruel disease, and many people do not want their friends and neighbours to see them at the clinic, either getting tested or getting treatment. And of course once someone decides to get tested, there is a very real possibility that the result will be positive.
There are an estimated 3,000,000 people in Malawi who are affected by HIV/AIDS, but since many people don’t get tested, it is really impossible to know how exact numbers. Of a population of 16,000,000 people, that means that nearly 20%, possibly more, are HIV positive. That is a significant number.
The government of Malawi are currently running a campaign encouraging people to get tested, as well as get counselling for emotional support as well as prevention. I am hopeful that campaigns like this will help turn the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa so that numbers of people affected will be reduced. I truly believe the tide will turn.
J encouraged me to ask her questions, and while I felt quite awkward at first, it soon became obvious that she was more than willing to share her experiences with me. She is not bitter, and there is no air of the victim about her. She meets life head on with courage, grace, dignity, and even good humour. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be able to do the same were I in her shoes.
I have some lovely photographs of J, and of course for privacy reasons I will not publish them. Instead they will remain in my photo album and in my memory and I will treasure them. Meeting J truly brought this issue home to me. It is one thing to be thousands of miles away, but to actually meet the front line workers, who are tireless and who are so committed to their work, and the people they support – well, I will treasure that always also.
I have now reached my fundraising goal of $5,000 and I will be increasing it to $10,000. Please help me achieve my new goal. I have said this before – there is no donation too small – every little bit truly makes a difference. Just go on to my fundraising page – it’s so easy to donate.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. As always, I am truly grateful for your support!