The pluck and openness of patients at an AIDS hospice left a deep impact on a group of African and European youth who visited as part of their MAGIS experience in Zimbabwe.
The eight participants of the MAGIS group that focused on AIDS in Harare came from Germany, Mauritius, Nigeria and France. In the five days they spent together, they witnessed the reality of AIDS, learnt accurate information about sexual health and sexually transmitted infections and engaged in a reflective process of self-awareness and awareness of God.
The practical part of their experience proved to be a real eye-opener: an encounter with patients and their carers at Mashambanzou Care Trust in Harare, a palliative care institution for people living with AIDS that also has prevention programs in high-density communities.
“I was amazed to see so much courage emanating from people affected by the virus, who talked freely about how they continued to live their daily life regardless,” said participant Christelle.
“The young people realized the hidden treasure in the patients: their warmth, their desire to live and to transform their lives and those of others,” said Time Baluwa, one of the group facilitators.
“They were quick to realize that they were not doing a favour to the patients but that they had embarked on a mutual albeit brief relationship in which they learnt much and were inspired. As for the patients, they felt rejuvenated by the encounter they had with the group. They found warmth and felt important because of the presence of the Magis group.”
Some singled out individuals at Mashambanzou who touched them especially. For Ashley, it was Sekai: “This lady really is her name, Sekai, which means ‘laughing’. She had such a smile on her face. While talking to her, I discovered the real meaning of how God works in you and can fill you with his joy even in the worst situations.”
Another participant, Rebekka, recalls: “One woman told me she had TB and lost her daughter a month ago. I was very sorry and hugged her. In that moment I realised how thin she was. In spite of experiencing so many bad things she could still laugh and ask me a lot of questions about my home country.”
At the same time, the young people saw that it certainly wasn’t easy to live with a virus that can be contained but not cured. “It isn’t only about health problems but even more about psychology and human relationships. But actually nothing prevents an open and friendly relationship with people living with HIV,” said Pierre-Antoine.
The young people were deeply impressed by the Catholic Sisters who work at the hospice. “The work of Mashambanzou is truly faith in action – the love, the devotion of the sisters,” said Christelle.
And Pierre-Antoine: “When I met impressive personalities like Sr Margaret, hope was reinforced in me thanks to the inspiration they embodied.”
Rebekka remembered particularly how “Sr Margaret told us about love and that love and energy should flow to the people who need it.” In fact, Time said one of the lessons the group learnt from its visit to Mashambanzou was the power of touch to heal. “This is especially so for people with HIV who often feel neglected and stigmatized. Being close to them and sharing their lives brings much value and is a special additional therapeutic intervention to antiretroviral drugs.”
The participants left the experience fired with enthusiasm to go and find something they could do in their own communities.
“I thought, why not me?” said Christelle. “Why can’t I give some of my time? And I reflected on how I could help the poor and the sick people in my country.”
For Pierre-Antoine, the time at Mashambanzou gave “a new dimension to the gospel of Matthew 25”. He said: “Being in contact with people who work everyday to give a light of hope to those who have to live with the virus day in, day out, created in me the desire to do more for the people of my country who have HIV.”
Christina from Germany prefaced her reflection with Here I am, send me (Isaiah 6:8)… I will hold your people in my heart,and wrote: “I recognized and felt deeply in my heart that the mission of our faith is fulfilled by ‘just’ being there, holding a hand, smiling and talking together, showing that the other isn’t defined by his HIV infection but by his personality, character and story. Positive living means to live positively in a double way: with the virus and a future, with the dignity of a human being.”