World AIDS Day is an important time to pay tribute to the amazing work done by communities who dedicate their lives to the fight against the disease. All around the world amazing things are happening. Srs Felicia Matola, Leonida Nyechero and Tibberiah Nyarangi Makori from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa fill us in on activities for World AIDS Day in Wau, South Sudan.
Life is precarious in South Sudan. Less than half of South Sudan’s 12 million population are under 18 years of age earning it the title of the youngest country in the world. The country is struggling to overcome its violent and turbulent history of civil war and ethnic violence that erupts regularly setting back development progress. More than 2 million people are internally displaced in the country, and another 2 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
In data released by UNAIDS in the wake of World AIDS Day, 190,000 people are living with HIV in South Sudan. Last year, 19,000 people were newly infected with HIV and 9,900 people died from an AIDS-related illness.
In 2011, a final target of 90-90-90 was introduced by the international community to close the chapter on the AIDS epidemic. The 90–90–90 targets envision that, by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads. For South Sudan, only 24% of people living with HIV know their status and only 16% of people living with HIV are receiving treatment.
The Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa are highly involved in the ongoing work of HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support which is all part of the celebration of World AIDS Day.
This year’s theme: ‘Communities make the difference’ fits exactly what we are doing and what Pope Francis is calling a ‘Synodal Approach’ (walking with) and what Misean Cara calls ‘The Accompaniment Model’.
Sr Leonidah Nychero Mokua, FMSA, is leading the St Mary’s Cathedral Youth through a series of seminars. She arranged these youth group seminars in collaboration with an NGO called Peace Friends Community for Development. The seminars take place every Saturday for the next 4 months as a kick-off and hopefully will continue. They just started on the 9th November and so they have a few weeks to prepare a drama for the 1st of December.
Every Saturday there is a new topic, and some of the following activities are included intercultural drama, behaviour change, and goal setting, to help youths avoid being infected or infecting others. They will receive T-shirts to advertise the day. The youth are very happy with the seminars which are in Arabic and English. From the enthusiasm of this group we think they will go out to the community and bring other youths to be part of this effort. For the first session, 17 youths turned up but we think the numbers will increase!
Sr Rosemary Oduol started an income generation group for some members of the Cathedral parish. It is a small group, but we hope it will grow. Sr Felicia Matola who recently relocated from Ireland is now working with this group. At their last meeting they discussed what they could do for World AIDS Day. The difficulty is that most people in Wau are very poor, so they find it difficult to actually do anything for people living with HIV and AIDS that involves money. However, some ideas came up including visiting the sick, just being kind to them and including them in events like anyone else, defend them if others are stigmatizing them, and be kind to widows and orphans. It is a start!
Mrs Muna Abraham, a very experienced nurse and counsellor, has been running a group called ‘Peacemakers’ in St. Daniel Comboni Catholic Hospital – to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). They are involved in both HIV and AIDS awareness and counselling in various villages throughout Wau. They come together for support and recently through the help of Srs Rosemary and Leonida, they have started an income generating project, embroidering lovely bed sheets that serve as a bed cover and are popular in Wau. They are also interested in doing individual income generating activities and will receive training for this, thanks to Misean Cara.
For World AIDS Day, they will continue their work of awareness and counselling and at the same time advertise the activities that the bigger organisations are doing in the stadium. We have designed a T-shirt for the women to wear on the day.
While the Peacemakers used to have their meetings at Comboni Hospital, for the first time they had their meeting in FMSA sister’s convent grounds under our famous mango tree where so much happens. This is ideal because rather than being isolated in the hospital grounds, it inserts their work into the community – and the FMSA convent is surrounded by internally displaced people (IDP) tents. The women commented that they feel very much at home and relaxed in this environment! They are one of many different groups that meet here.
Besides these activities, the quiet work of providing testing equipment is done by Sr Leonidah and testing patients is done in the hospital where Sr Tibberiah works in paediatrics, and often has to handle babies and children who are born with HIV. Sr Anne, working in the Diocesan Education office continues to bring awareness of the needs of HIV and AIDS to her work.
So with all of us working together, we are helping to make the ideas in (1) ‘Communities make the difference’; (2) the ‘Synodal Approach’ (walking with); and (3) Misean Cara’s ‘Accompaniment Model’, An Everyday Reality!