Having young people around at the home-based care (HBC) project of his parish in rural Zambia has made Fr Kelly Michelo realize how much they are needed in the fight against AIDS.
Fifteen young people from Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia converged on the Chikuni Parish HBC project in southern Zambia for the Magis Africa 2014 experience in August. For five days, they lent a hand in all the HBC income-generating activities and came into direct contact with the life and hopes of people living with HIV.
Fr Kelly was impressed with the “openness, interest and full participation” the Magis participants displayed and said he learned a lot from their insights and commitment. “Seeing the young people do their work and share their experiences made me realize that our mission of offering hope to people living with HIV is incomplete if we don’t involve them,” he said.
“Their involvement reminded me that we shouldn’t underrate the good they can do to prevent HIV and to change the way people living with HIV have been understood. They also taught us at the HBC that we need to do more for adolescents who are HIV-positive.”
The young people also learned much from their ‘immersion experience’ at Chikuni, starting with the awareness that people living with HIV can enjoy a happy and healthy life just like anyone else can… provided they have the right support.
One day was spent in the home of one or other member of the HBC self-help groups. The young people were quick to realise that their hosts were perfectly capable of doing their daily chores like gardening, collecting firewood and drawing water.
“I was surprised to see people who are HIV-positive live happy and peaceful lives like other people,” said Edwin from Tanzania.
Gerald from Zimbabwe said: “In the heart of the rural areas we found people living positively with HIV and being open about it and willing to stop the spread of the pandemic by educating others.”
Linda, also from Zimbabwe, was totally impressed by Mama Rosemary, the woman who welcomed her into her home. “Mama Rosemary looks after a big family and yes, she is managing well. She showed us the projects she is running including growing groundnuts and maize, and rearing goats and pigs. My friends and I wanted to help with the duties of her home but she said there was nothing for us to do. Rather she opted for us to prepare lunch for her family. I really enjoyed preparing food and she was so happy together with her grandchildren. We were given fruit and groundnuts to take back with us. I was inspired.”
The young people understood something else too: people living with HIV are unlikely to be able to go it alone. Close support on many levels, economic, social and emotional, can make all the difference. The parish plays a key role in promoting the wellbeing of those who are HIV-positive, not only by offering this support but also by continuously raising awareness.
“The on-going sensitization at Chikuni has created comfortable corners where people can feel free to discuss HIV and AIDS and this has lessened segregation by facilitating the community acceptance of people living with HIV,” said Fr Kelly. “When people living with HIV are supported, this facilitates openness to share about their experiences.”
The young people learned many lessons from the people they met: lessons about how HIV can be acquired and prevented and about the challenges faced by those who are HIV-positive in a developing world. These testimonies are really helpful especially for young people faced with important life decisions.
“A woman I met encouraged me to protect myself from being infected by HIV and told me ‘HIV is real. Taking tablets every day is not easy. Make sure you take good care of yourself,’” said one of the participants. “The only difficulty I faced was that her sharing were too touching and I wanted to cry.”
Their five days with Chikuni HBC prompted the youth to realise they can do something to support people living with HIV in the places they come from.
Gerald said: “I have seen that as young people we can do more and more and give more and more and in the same way we will take more from life. Drawing lessons from AJAN, we can touch a number of lives especially of people living with HIV.”
Joyce, from Zambia, said she wanted to start her own initiative with her friends in college. “I believe we who are not infected by HIV are affected in every way. We have all encountered people who are infected. My prayer is that God will grant me an opportunity to help sensitise other young people across the board about AIDS.” She said she had a “passion for a better Zambia, a better Africa and a better world” and added: “I believe we can make a huge difference with regard to AIDS.”