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African poverty and HIV/AIDS is the burden grandmothers must now bear

African poverty, together with the mounting toll of HIV/AIDS in Africa, has created another terrible legacy; the burden borne by AIDS grandmothers as they bury their children and are left to look after their grandchildren.

HIV/AIDS statistics in Africa present a remorseless picture of infection and death. It is for the survivors too, those many million grandparents and their orphaned grand children that our hearts must ache. They live with unimaginable sadness and grief, much magnified by the increased poverty they endure as the sole breadwinners for those they look after.

Some grandmothers also care for the mothers of the children since they are often sick and not working. Very often they find themselves not even understanding the nature of the illness they are nursing and exposing themselves to HIV. They buy food using the government grant they receive. Some grandmothers are unemployed and sickly not yet eligible to receive a grant.

Although a lot of stories have been written about a child and grandmother in Africa, it so poignantly and powerfully illustrates what the women and children throughout Africa are suffering.

“I must raise and sleep with the orphans on my mind.” The proliferation of orphans has become a deluge; it’s absolutely overwhelming in country after country. Governments are beside themselves: no one has any firm grip on how to handle these millions of frantic children. Extended families and communities struggle to absorb them; grandmothers bury their own children and then try somehow to cope with hordes of grandchildren; child-headed households are an ever-growing phenomenon on the landscape of Africa: it is a nightmare!

I attended a funeral of a 30 year old mother who was HIV positive. Normally at our African funerals, the last tribute to the late person would be singing.   As some children sang, the words of the song caught my attention, it began with the words “see us, the children carrying our parents in their coffins to the grave leaving us with our grandmothers who have to slave for us to get education”, and it ended with the words “Help, Help”. I have heard many such stories from many such children. But I have rarely been left in such emotional disarray. It became clear when I spoke to the child whose mother we buried on that day, that this little morsel of a child is really hurting, as she talked of her mother’s trips in and out of hospital, and then the last weeks at home.  She wept copiously, uncontrollably; but it was a weeping as if the depths of the sea had been plumbed; the tears didn’t just flow, they gushed and for a moment in time, it was as if this one young girl became the pandemic incarnate.”

Most of us feel that the only thing that separates us from those elderly women in Africa is simply an accident of birth timing. If we had been born some 65 (plus) years ago, the life story of the African grandmothers would be our own. We also believe that once our community knows and fully understand about the pain and hardship caused by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and how the heroic African grandmothers are the only ones holding devastated families and communities together, they will want to help out.

And so the list goes on.  NCM Africa sees the struggle grandmothers are experiencing. One of our future endeavours is to develop a programme that would give psychological support to grandmothers (care givers) and also give them an understanding of the disease and coping mechanisms to deal with the situation they find themselves faced with. In a small way that would help ease their burden.

By Faith Cassim

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Dadaab: The Veil Fell Off

Growing up in a country that had experienced a protracted and devastating war for independence, droughts, famine, political displacement and disease, I thought I had seen it all.

As a pastor and leader in the church, I was privileged to organize relief programs for those affected by droughts and famine, and to set up programs to assist families displaced during political violence in some quarters of my country.  I have seen children lose their lives from malnutrition and other diseases such as cholera and AIDS.  I have visited settlement camps for families displaced through violence and drought in a number of places in Zimbabwe.

I thought I had seen it all.

That changed when I walked into the Dadaab camps in northern Kenya. Our relief partners in Kenya organized a trip to assess the situation. We hoped to develop intervention programs to meet some of the needs.

We left Garissa early in the morning for what seemed to be an endless drive through the dirt on a bumpy road under a cloudless sky and scorching heat. All along the way, we were confounded by the sight of endless animal carcasses. Very dry, thirsty lands stretched as far as the eye could see.  We were told that in this part of the country, the last significant rain had fallen about seven years ago. We saw no trees; whatever had been there was cut down for fuel, causing massive deforestation around Dadaab.

We arrived around mid-morning and quickly met with representatives from UNICEF and CARE who briefed us on the situation in the camps and the relief efforts being carried out. After the meetings, armed guards accompanied us on the short, dusty drive to the camps.  There are 5 camps in Dadaab now, 2 of these were newly developed to cope with the increase in refugees from Somalia.

As we entered the camp in the section where refugees are received and registered, we were in shock. Faces of hunger, fear and hopelessness stared back at us. The camp director took us on a tour of the different stations within the registration area where scores of emaciated children and mothers lined up to be registered.  Fresh graves were evident, the last resting place of those who had died waiting.  

Between 1,500 - 2,000 new refugees arrive daily.  Aid agencies drive around in buses collecting those who have made it across the border and bring them to the camps.  This is a small effort to prevent unnecessary suffering and death.

We heard story after story of mothers whose children had died along the way to the camps after travelling for days without food or water. Teenagers were raped, and some families were forced to choose which of their children to continue the journey and which ones to let die, on the way. My thoughts often drifted to my own family and how I would feel if the roles were reversed.

One man described the painful experience of losing all his family on this arduous and dreadful walk to the camp -- how he watched his family die one by one along the way, burying them in a bread crumb trail of graves that now marks his journey.

As we mingled with the refugees, I realized how precious these mothers and children were. The veil that had separated us from them fell off. Right there before us were God’s children crying out for help. In the eyes of God, differences in religion play no significant role; we cannot withhold our love. God wants us to reach out and become His hands and feet extended to these, our brothers and sisters, in need of our love. The words of Jesus came alive as I reached out to a little boy who barely had strength to walk: “I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink...” (Matthew 25:35)

One incident, which will linger for a very long time in my mind, was of a young mother, frail and wasted, probably 19 years old, wrapping her baby about her bosom. As she tried to get to the front of the queue for attention, one of the guards manning the desk stopped her, pushed her and told her to go back to the end of the line. Turning to walk back, she staggered and wobbled, tears streamed down her cheeks. My heart cried; I felt so helpless. I wondered, as I watched her, when her last meal had been or when she last had a glass of water. I could not see her baby because of the cloths, but shuddered at the condition I knew I would have seen.

I am grateful for the effort of the Church of the Nazarene through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries to mobilize resources for restoring hope and dignity to these people in the camps, and also those in surrounding areas who are equally affected by the famine. As the church rises up to this challenge, we need to be thankful for the many blessings we have and that we are obligated by love to share with those in need.

After this exhausting and emotionally draining experience, I found myself humming one of my favourite choruses:

“Make me a servant, humble and meek

Lord, let me lift up, those who are weak,

And may the prayer of my heart always be;

Make me a servant, make me a servant,

Make me a servant today.” (Kelly Willard)

By Rev. Cosmos Mutowa - Africa Regional Coordinator for Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

GIVE

Globally, donations to NCM’s relief effort in the Horn of Africa can be given electronically.  Go to www.helpinghandsafrica.org and click on the ‘donate’ tab for more details.  The reference for all electronic transactions is ‘Hunger’.

Checks can be mailed to NCM-Africa/HHA, PO Box 44, 1710, Florida, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Family Health Day: A great success!

A Family Health Day was held at Mkhulamini Clinic, Swaziland, on 24 June 2011.  Community mobilisation and information dissemination about the newly available ART and TB services was the aim of the day.“It was important to make the entire community aware that HIV and TB treatment is now available at the Clinic”, said Dr Beauty Makhubela, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries - Swaziland, Country Director.

Even the strong storm-like winds didn’t hinder the day.  Over 650 people browsed through the stalls covering: HIV counselling and testing; TB screening; reproductive health; family planning; male circumcision; Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT); environmental hygiene; and lastly, sanitation.

The formal part of the day commenced with an opening prayer from Pastor Dlamini.  In between speeches, on topics such as HIV and TB, entertainment was provided.  This included a marching demonstration by the Boy Scouts, a dramatised play on the dangers of promiscuity and HIV & TB treatment stories of hope.

The day was a great success and the community contributed by donating food.  Nazarene Compassionate Ministries - Swaziland was applauded for the work it is doing in alleviating the burden of HIV and TB in the country.

Swaziland has the highest HIV and TB infection rates in the world.

by Dr. Beauty Makhubela

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