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The Fortunate Ones

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 |
Posted by admin
Categories: AIDS, Malawi, Orphans
Lilongwe, Malawi 2008 These children are the fortunate ones. They are part of a group who attend a feeding center outside one of the slum areas in Lilongwe, Malawi. Daily they receive their bowls of porridge and get to participate in the early childhood education program at the center. This particular bunch of kids is fortunate in other ways, too. These children are part of a select few who have been chosen from the masses to receive life saving anti-retroviral (ARV) medicine. Each of these children is infected with the life- threatening virus, HIV. Babies infected with HIV often have accelerated disease progression. Without treatment the HIV+ child can become seriously ill and face a high risk of dying in the first few years of life.  Given the anti-retroviral drugs and appropriate treatment, these children have the potential to live normal and relatively healthy lives.  A bowl of porridge, ABC’s, and ARV’s, this group has been given a fighting chance.
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Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Sunday, May 3, 2009 |
Posted by admin
Categories: AIDS, Malawi
Lilongwe, Malawi 2008 Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. The little girl in me remembers hundreds of times that I chanted the above ditty. After a skirmish on the playground or in the classroom, I used this song as a means to protect the spot that had just been wounded by a name, an insult, or a label. Whoever made up the little mantra was obviously not HIV positive. I think about some of my friends in Africa and here in Baltimore. I think about the stories that they have shared concerning their disclosure of their HIV status. One of my HIV positive Baltimore friends contracted the disease through no fault of her own. Her unfaithful husband infected her. Now she keeps this deep, dark secret to herself, afraid of the names, the stigma, and the rejection that would accompany her transparency. Then there is an African peasant friend who was infected by her marital partner. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she transmitted HIV to her daughter during pregnancy and birth. Fortunately, they now have access to medication, but they do not have access to the community support that removes the fear, the anxiety, and the dread of the future for those who are HIV positive. My gay buddy talks about a double whammy. Not only is he labeled by the name of “gay”, but also he carries the branding of being HIV positive. Depending upon the setting, he gives neither bits of information away. He must remain guarded, discreet, and very selective in who gets to go into his inner places of truth, joy, and pain. Certain names can hurt. Certain names can break hearts. Disparaging names replace confidence with doubt. Stereotypical names can create fear and desperation. Before casting judgment and hurling verbal sticks and stones at the HIV positive individual, perhaps we should each walk a mile in their shoes, get our feet dirty, and then look at what is truly there. We may learn, as in the case of my African friend, that she has no shoes, yet keeps walking anyway.
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Matilda

Saturday, May 3, 2008 |
Posted by admin
Categories: AIDS, Malawi, Orphans
Matilda is an AIDS orphan. When I met her she was living with her siblings in the Mgona slums of Lilongwe, Malawi. Her father had been dead for some time. Her mother had just passed away from an AIDS related illness. The neighbors in the slum were trying to evict the orphaned children from their family home. Matilda and her siblings were destitute, broken, and lost. Her only lifeline was the care that the family of children received from the Home Based Care workers of a friend’s ministry. This image of Matilda was used by God to inspire me to use my photography as a means to fund the ministry of God’s Economy. One night while I was in Malawi, I was awakened from a sound sleep. I was directed to pick up my camera and review the images that I had shot during the day. When I came to this picture of Matilda, I stopped. My heart pounded. The plans for God’s Economy were laid out before me. Take the resource of photography and use it for the greater good: care for the least of these. Through the resources of numerous friends, Matilda and her siblings have subsequently been moved from the slums to a rural location to live with their grandparents. Her image and her story remain as the catalysts that inspire folks to extend generosity to the down-trodden and needy. God’s economy is the full expression of Jesus amongst us. Following God’s design and purpose to bring the love of Christ to the world, we receive, partake, and dispense the riches that come through living a life connected to Jesus. We rejoice over the things that bring joy to Jesus. Simultaneously, we allow ourselves to be broken by the things that break the heart of God. We serve as conduits through which His mercy, love, grace, kindness, compassion, and justice can liberally flow. Freely we receive. Freely we give. Issues that cause God concern: widows, orphans, and the alien are places where we offer ourselves in service to others. We become vital channels through which resources can flow from those who have surplus to those who have need. Matilda is a reflection of the hope that comes when we come into the fullness of what it means to live out God’s economy.
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The Hospital Kitchen – Faithful Ones

St. Gabriel’s Hospital is located in rural Malawi, accessible only by a dusty, dirt road about 2 miles from the tarmac road. St. Gabriel’s Hospital is a Catholic mission hospital established in 1959 by Carmelite Sisters from Luxembourg. The mission statement of the hospital is “to provide excellent services to the poor rural community and all those in need.” While I visited St. Gabriel’s, God gave me a new definition for the term “faithful ones”. The hospital is staffed by a group of devoted men and women who daily practice medicine and all the tasks that are necessary to keep the hospital running. I saw the local ambulance arrive one night (think two oxen yoked to a rickety cart that transported a hemorrhaging woman from an adjacent village). A team tethered the animals, grabbed the patient, and quickly got her inside to be triaged. Day and night the faithful ones of the St. Gabriel’s team faithfully serve in the trenches addressing malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB, poverty based illnesses, trauma, cancers, birth and death, with minimal resources at their disposal. There is another group of “faithful ones” at St. Gabriel’s. You see there is no institutional hospital kitchen for the in-patients at the hospital. Anyone who is admitted must have a caregiver along for the duration of the hospital stay. That caregiver is responsible not only for the palliative care of his/her loved one, but also for the daily feeding of the patient. The hospital has an out-building, a barn-like structure, made of handmade bricks. The four walls have cut out windows; there is a pocked dirt floor. This structure serves as the hospital kitchen. The female caregivers travel to the hospital with their family members, the patients. They cart their little pots, plastic bowls, and their young children along. Once there, three times a day the caregivers search for some sort of firewood so that they can lay a small campfire in the kitchen over which to cook a meager meal. A weak soup of cooked greens, or a bowl of porridge, or perhaps if one is lucky she finds some tomatoes or a dried fish to add to the nourishment of the ailing family member: this is the menu of the rural poor. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, over and over again these faithful ones prepare the meals in this smoke-filled barn. To stay in the kitchen for more than a few moments is to have uncontrollable tears and snot pour down one’s face. It is stifling and unbearable being amongst the forty or more open fires. While in the kitchen taking the pictures, the women readily embraced this visiting western photographer. They treated me as one of their own. We spoke no common words. Pantomime and the review of the photos was our means of communication. More than once one of the women came and gently grabbed my hand to lead me outside. Once outside she would take the hem of her dirty skirt and lovingly wipe the tears and mucous from my face. We’d laugh and simply hold onto one another. Regaining composure, we’d go back into the kitchen; me to take another snapshot, her to faithfully prepare her loved one’s next meal.
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The Aftermath – South Africa

Thursday, May 1, 2008 |
Posted by admin
Categories: AIDS, HIV, South Africa
HIV/AIDS is changing the landscape of nations. This panorama is what local communities throughout many nations in Africa and Asia live with on a daily basis. Week after week a steady stream of loved ones, family members, neighbors, and friends are laid to rest because of AIDS. Fresh graves... these are fresh graves. The HIV infection rate in this province of South Africa is above 33% of the population. If these are the reported statistics, then certainly the actual numbers are much higher. One must understand that many of the rural poor do not get tested. They cannot afford to get tested, have limited access to health care systems, and face alienation if identified as having HIV. Better not to know...Often people die of complications due to AIDS, so their HIV status is never reported to the statisticians. A death certificate names the cause of death as something other than HIV/AIDS: pneumonia, TB, or any number of other opportunistic diseases that piggyback on top of the HIV virus. While surveying the graveyard, a guide explains that the mounds of dirt at the edge of the hill are in anticipation of the mass burials that will take place on the following Saturday. So many people in the community die of AIDS and AIDS related illnesses that the gravediggers need the week to dig enough graves to accommodate the bodies needing burial. Additionally, the economic survival of the community is in jeopardy - too many workers need time off during the work week to bury their loved ones. Saturday has become the designated burial day. All day, every Saturday, the local pastors and priests pay their final respects and their tributes to the deceased. All day, every Saturday, streams of people from the local villages repeat the grieving, the heart wrenching good-byes. The very fabric of community and family is ripped apart over and over again. Every Saturday in the burial rites these dear ones have to readdress the enemy head on. Murderer, robber, liar, and thief, Satan is disguised in the form of a virus. And just think: this is only one graveyard, in one village, in one province, in only one of the countries that is being ravaged by the monster, HIV/AIDS.
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