Vatican City (Fides Service) - In Uganda 50% of the country’s children have lost at least one parent because of AIDS. Most of the children are in danger of ending up on the streets and made to work for crime gangs.
In February 2001, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, made a donation on behalf of the Pope of 500, 000 Euro for projects run by local Catholic NGOs and the Missionaries of Charity Sisters. Cor Unum funds projects whose priorities are: give orphans a home; ensure schooling by building schools; health education to prevent AIDS; training especially for minors who have been in prison; a Home for children terminally ill with AIDS run by the Missionaries of Charity. This work now assists 1.000 children. The project is part of a national AIDS programme within the framework of interventions by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Local Catholic NGOs have been active for some time and Uganda has become a country-laboratory in the fight against AIDS; it is one of the few countries where the rate of HIV infection has dropped: from 9.51% to 8.30%. These results are not a point of arrival they are encouragement for ever greater commitment.
Pope John Paul has often spoken on behalf of the victims of this terrible illness. In his apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa” he writes: “La lotta contro l’AIDS deve essere ingaggiata da tutti. Facendo eco alla voce dei Padri sinodali, anch’io domando agli operatori pastorali di portare ai fratelli e alle sorelle colpiti dall’AIDS tutto il conforto possibile sia materiale che morale e spirituale”(n. 116). In response the Church is committed in various areas:
- Training pastoral workers and health care workers and young people themselves;
- Working to prevent AIDS with education to responsible love lived in the family;
- Working in the field of health care with medical personnel, programmes of assistance to patients and centres of rehabilitation as well as providing support for families;
- Pastoral care for patients and families, especially those who are abandoned, AIDS orphans, widows.
CAFOD, CRS, Misereor and many other Catholic Aid Agencies work in this field in close co-ordination since 1988. From the beginning special care was given to children. Besides giving health care it is important to overcome prejudice and fear which lead to the marginalisation of the patients.
The Church takes a global approach to the problem working not only to prevent and to treat but also to consider the person as a whole and the responsibility of the individual. Most important therefore, education, relations with the community, responsibility in married and family life.
Uganda is one of the most affected countries. For example at the end of 1997 already 9. 51% of the adult population was HIV+. There were 1,700,000 AIDS orphans. But in Uganda, thanks to prevention progress has been made: in some rural areas the proportion of children aged 10 to 20 HIV + dropped from 4. 4 % in 1989-90 to 1.4 % in 1996-7 (UNAIDS 2000). We supported a project in this sorely affected country to show that much can be done with good will and sincere effort in this field.
Testimony from Ugandan born Mrs Rose Busingye directress of “Meeting Point” in Kampala (local NGO working to help AIDS patients and their families) on the occasion of the presentation of Pope John Paul II’s message for Lent 2001.
A message becomes life: working with AIDS orphans
“I want to thank the Holy Father. I would even say that from the start he is the Father of what I have been doing. No one else taught me the value of the human person. I have learned from his untiring insistence on the truth about mankind. I would like to thank him not only for providing funds but also because he helps me not to be a divided person. If my work is based on my faith then I am coherent. Because I work with people my faith must guide my work so that I give proper care to people. Today it is fashionable to make different plans and it is easy to replace the person which what we do for them and when we fail we are angry with ourselves and with the person. The positive value is important so that the person us not used.
People are in need and unless we realise this we pass them by with indifference.
In Uganda there are many projects to promote the use of condoms, to defend human rights, to fight poverty to protect women and children etc. but everyone focuses on the project rather than the person. For example if they meet someone with AIDS they see AIDS not the person. The patient we care for is a person and we must care for the whole person.
I work with people with AIDS, children adults, and orphans. It is an adventure and it is also quite funny because I meet all kinds of feelings, needs and behaviour. I find it interesting to work with the person and their needs.
Why do I help people? Who are they? And who am I?
Meeting Point M.P. is a concrete experience of a group of friends faced with HIV/AIDS, either personally infected or with family members of friends infected, who want to find a meaning to suffering and death. The aim of M.P. is not to leave people with AIDS alone to face their illness and death. We do this by ensuring competent daily company, which in time becomes friendship. We help the children to face the situation with freedom and joy and we grow with them.
Alice, aged 46 HIV/AIDS sufferer for ten years, was desperate. She wanted medicine to make her die. I had no idea how to help her. Before going to work I would drop in to see her without saying very much just being there. After a week of these visits she said with tears in her eyes: “You know I had a husband, 6 children and the relationship with my husband was good it gave meaning to life. Now I have lost everything I want to die help me to die now, I won’t tell anyone. That was 8 years ago. Some accuse me of giving special medicines, she weighs almost 90 kilos and she says: “If you look at something with a reason for living you live too” Now she is a volunteer at Meeting Point because she wants to do what I do.
Building friendships with the sick and their families is a school were where learn now to love the person, their life and their destiny. Condoms and fear are negative ways of facing the epidemic. We offer psychological counselling to patients and young people and teach them hygiene and correct sexual behaviour. As I said it is an adventure to work with people, adults, young people, children, you learn something new every day. You can never say, “Now I know what the person needs”.
I was pleased with the times, the money the food and medicines which I was able to give to my patients. But despite all this the children instead of going to school would play among the garbage, refuse to talk pretend they were ill so as not to go to school. They hid under the bed or behind the house and refused to eat. The patients refused medicines and food. I felt like dropping everything and leaving and then I asked myself: “who are they for me, and who am I for them?»
Until recently in Uganda people knew they belonged to a tribe, a family they knew they were someone. Now this has gone: families have broken up, tribes are no longer interested in the common good, only in group interests. Before a child belonged to the tribe he belonged to a people and he was someone, he had his dignity.
Now children and women are without protection, they have no dignity no desire to life no future.
They are of no value for their families like the wife is not important for the husband and vice versa. Why live, why marry why have children?
Losing their identity they lost everything. They have lost their point of reference, why they should go to school, take medicine, speak, they have lost confidence in themselves and in others.
The first thing we do is to build a relationship with them, not to take the place of their parents but because we love them, they are important for us they are of value. Only by building interpersonal relationship can we restore their dignity and make them realise that they are someone.
M.P. is present in the outskirts of Kampala, Hoima and Kitgum. The city of Kampala is built on seven hills and at the foot of each hill there is a slum. Many people have AIDS and the number of AIDS orphans increases rapidly. Unless they receive care they live on the streets.
As the population grows the virus spreads and increases prejudice and fear, shame and rejection on the part of the family. This makes more problems. Families will not take AIDS orphans and the number their number is increasing.
The age group most affected by AIDS 20 - 45 that is the most active part of the population. Most die after long suffering and often in dire poverty because they had to leave their jobs and they have no assistance.
At the moment we are assisting almost 600 patients registered art the Meeting Point, as well as about 1000 AIDS orphans all over Kampala.
We provide medical care with home visits distributing medicines to those who cannot afford them or hospital treatment.
We help orphans by paying school fees so that they have elementary education at least. We distributed food and other basic necessities, blankest, soap. Cooking utensils etc. We also provide legal assistance for widows and patients for problems with inheritance, adoption etc.
I will not go into detail but what I care about is the person, and working with them I realise my own weakness, I cannot stand alone it is easier to see the greatness of the human person and his dignity which no one can take away.
The human person has feelings, anger, resentment, reactions, tenderness, and feelings, which no other creature has. The time we spend with them, the money, medicines we give them are ways of showing that we value them, they are precious and they are responsible for their life. The responsibility is not collective. Unless we address the individual we achieve nothing. So they need responsible persons to watch. Treating a person we must love them and hold them in esteem.
In Africa we have disease, war, conflict and to help us reach happiness we need people with a passion for our dignity, who respect our person.
My teacher used to tell me that there could be a New World until everyone finds a place in which he or she belongs. In this way we can be a new society and new civilisation.
I have seen this happen in my life and in the life of the people I care for. It seemed to be only an abstract idea, but I have seen people change, the patients who I thought could never change, have changed and they changed me.
Children call me Mom because they have found a new life; Vicky a prostitute says: “I don’t know anything about M.P. all I know is that they are people who love me and I want to live for them, the children at Akello, women at the refugee camp.
I said that belonging seemed something abstract and instead it is the truth about the human person and human dignity and the responsibility for this dignity changes the face of the world and can even changed structures. My work is to build a relationship with the person, with a friend. In this way we can make all things new, we can build a new world.”
(AP) (3/4/2004 Agenzia Fides)