HIV

Empower a Hero: Emily in Kenya

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Emily Seteyio is dedicated to reducing the high infant mortality rate in Kenya, and she’s going the distance to make it happen. She used to regularly walk six miles to protect just one baby from HIV. More than 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV, but pregnant women and their babies are especially vulnerable to the disease. Prenatal care and hospital births reduce the chances of mother-to-child transmission. But neither of those are common practice for women living in remote areas.

Because doctors and nurses are out of reach, rural women often turn to traditional birth attendants to assist them during labor. Unfortunately, many attendants don’t have the proper equipment or training to prevent HIV transmission between the mothers and infants under their care.

Emily in Kenya
Emily in Kenya

So Emily stands with the vulnerable women of Kajiado, Kenya. She empowers them with the resources they need to have safe deliveries and healthy babies – even when the mothers are HIV positive. Since 2012, she’s served as a community health worker after training from World Relief Kenya. Emily volunteered for the role because she was concerned about the mothers in remote areas who were without access to quality care.

Emily visits mothers in their homes and counsels them about the benefits of giving birth in health centers. “In the hospital, there are gloves and equipment that prevent the spread of HIV from the health caregivers to the mother and child,” Emily said.

Pastors often serve as vital links between community health workers and vulnerable mothers. Through collaboration with a local pastor, Emily was able to make sure one high-risk woman had transportation to the health facility for the birth.

But during her pregnancy, Emily would regularly walk six miles from the health facility to the woman’s remote village. Since she was HIV positive, Emily encouraged her to give birth in a health center so her baby could live free from the virus.

Eventually, the woman delivered a healthy baby boy in the health facility, despite her high-risk pregnancy. This wouldn’t have been possible without Emily’s dedication – and the support of the local church.

Check back each week in January to meet more heroes like Emily – women and men standing for justice in the most vulnerable places around the world. Join the movement at EmpowerAHero.org today!

Empower a Hero: Mary in Malawi

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Mary Molo’s greatest joy comes from educating the children of her rural community. But she doesn’t keep this joy to herself. She invites as many others as possible to be a part of her influential work in Malawi. Through her community-based childcare center, Mary brings her neighbors together to serve vulnerable children, many of whom come from HIV-affected families. When people from across the village pool their unique gifts and talents, they can offer children a wider range of physical, emotional and spiritual care. “My advice to everyone is that let us get united towards supporting early childhood education,” Mary said.

The government of Malawi depends on communities to provide their own preschool services, which prepare children for primary and elementary school. When Mary founded her center 11 years ago, she had been widowed and raising her six children on her own. But there was still room in her heart. When the Swaswa Childcare Center opened, Mary soon had even more children to love.

Then six years ago, World Relief Malawi began supporting Mary’s initiative. Her capacity to serve and teach the children of her community grew even more.

World Relief trains church volunteers to become closely-linked supporters of childcare centers. Across Malawi, 34 churches are caring for the children in their communities. Volunteers use their own resources to serve vulnerable children by cultivating gardens outside the centers and using the crops to prepare nutritious meals. This is essential because many children in Malawi are malnourished. Healthy diets support the development of young children and prepare their growing minds for future educational success.

The volunteers have great capacity to love. As they provide emotional and social support, the children develop self-esteem and confidence. In one year, 7,998 children in Malawi were served by World Relief staff, volunteers, churches and leaders like Mary. At the Swaswa Childcare Center, she’s giving the most vulnerable children the strong start they need to become the future leaders of Malawi.

To empower heroes like Mary, join us at empowerahero.org.

A friendship that brought life

Proverbs 17:17 says,"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." World Relief empowers the local Church in Mozambique to serve the most vulnerable by training community health workers to provide in-home care for the marginalized. Often, these volunteers provide lasting friendship to the people they serve, meeting not only their health needs but their spiritual and relational needs as well.

Esmeralda Fernandowas in a very vulnerable state before a trained community health worker reached out to her and helped her achieve a better quality of life. She has HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. At only 22 years old, she is a widow and a single parent to her seven year-old child. Her husband passed away in 2013.

When she was first visited by the volunteer, Esmerelda and her husband both knew they had HIV/AIDS but had not been adhering to treatment. After her husband passed away, Esmerelda began heeding the words of the volunteer.

“When she first came to talk about our health and our possibility to re-start our normal life if we do regular treatment, we didn’t believe her because, for us, our life was close to the end," said Esmerelda. "When my husband passed away, [she] visited me more times and one day asked me who is going to take care of my child if I die.”

The community health worker helped Esmerelda realize that her health was fragile, precious and vital for the well-being of her daughter. Esmerelda began treatment and today, her health has improved.

Esmerelda Mozambique

When we spoke to her, Esmeralda Fernando had a lot to say about the volunteer who showed her the love of Christ in word and deed. “I feel relief because of the work [she] did in my life,” she said. “She is like a sister to me. I decided to restart the treatment again and with the support of the [health worker] and my relatives even, [though we were not] sure of the results.”

The volunteer also helped Esmerelda enroll her daughter in school and obtain necessary school supplies. “Today, I am feeling good,” said Esmerelda. “I farm and produce my own food. I and my child are very happy and I am thankful too because it was able to help enroll my child in the school I also was able to learn a lot about community health. I am willing to pass the message to other people in the community."

Addressing HIV in India means strengthening marriages

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In India, we are empowering the local Church to transform marriages, protect families, care for those living with HIV/AIDS and prevent HIV/AIDS. All of this is done by addressing the root causes of HIV/AIDS – broken relationships. Our Families For Life curriculum, taught by the local Church, reinforces the importance of commitment, faithfulness and communication in marriage. We have seen these live-saving, Gospel-centered messages bring healing to broken families and entire communities.

World Relief introduced these pastors to the curriculum in February 2014. They said they wanted to be trained in the curriculum with their spouses so they could deliver the curriculum to their congregations. Since March, 65 new pastors have been trained to restore and strengthen their marriages and the marriages within their churches.

Our local staff member, Jeyaprakasham, said, “All the participants were very happy and actively involved in the program. It was a first time experience for many of the pastors and their wives to attend a meeting of this kind.”

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One pastor said, “I have been married for 24 years and I never thought of this - that my wife is my friend. Here begins our friendship, and we will be the best friends to each other.”

His wife added, I attend[ed] this kind of meeting for the first time in my life. I missed a lot in my married life. I will make it further and take it to our church.”

Changing the Tide Together: The AIDS Crisis in 2012

Written by Debbie Dortzbach I often think about Mweni—the quiet three-year-old child of Ruth who was dying of AIDS when I first met her in Kenya in 1993.  Thinking the exposure to a dying parent would be too difficult for Mweni, her aunties usually kept her away. But Ruth begged her to come every day to see her and tell her about her day. Then she would pray for her.  I wonder how Ruth’s prayers were answered?  What was Mweni’s orphaned life like?  Did she finish school? Did she avoid HIV herself? Is she now married and raising a family? I do believe that somewhere tucked in her bundles of belongings is the treasured memory box of photos, letters, prayers, and small items Ruth left for Mweni  to remember her by.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Ruth died of AIDS. This month 25,000 people will gather in Washington DC to attend the 2012 International AIDS Conference. Many US and world leaders will stir us to press on to “turning the tide together”—the theme of the conference.  What is this tide, and what does it take to turn it together?

The AIDS crisis of the 1990s is still a crisis today. According to UNAIDS, nearly 34 million people are living with the virus, HIV, and 30 million have already died.  We have effective medications today that have turned the tide of this illness from snatching a life prematurely to making AIDS a chronic illness, but only eight million people access this medicine-for-life.  We don’t seem to win. For every new person treated with these life-saving drugs, two persons are newly infected. How do we change this rip tide that threatens to push us back to sea after so many years of hard-earned progress?

Actually, we know all we need to know, to change the course of this tide. And working together, the tide can be turned.  A surprising source demonstrates how.  Here are some lessons God’s people, committed to His body, the church, are applying so that Mweni’s children will not be part of another lost generation.

1. We, the church, are vulnerable.

For good reason, good public health targets vulnerable populations with specific, proven interventions to address communicable health concerns. Though many of us continue to point fingers at high risk populations such as men who have sex with men or drug addicts, the facts are that we all are vulnerable to sexual situations fueling this epidemic  unless our hearts, minds, and bodies are constantly guarded and our environments made accountable to one another.  Recognizing this changes everything, including one of the most lingering barriers to changing the tide—stigma.  Honesty leaves little room for pride and finger-pointing.

2. We, the church, can change—ourselves and our cultures.

The mobilized church has overcome self-righteous attitudes and actions and protected life, cared for the dying, and persevered to advocate for the voiceless child or battered woman. Widespread, unfounded fear of people with AIDS has been changed to embracing people living with AIDS.   A young Khmer girl in Cambodia attending an all-girl group on empowering girls to make wise sexual choices was asked about the kind of man she wanted to marry. Without hesitation she blurted out, “A man who will be faithful to me all my life.”

 3. We, the global church, are equipped to continue.

The international AIDS conference will make appeal after appeal for more funds, resources, research, and commitment. The church leads the global pack in sustainable and renewable interventions with resources that will never dry up—passion for the poor, shared households and physical goods, the truth and knowledge of God for everyday living, and the experience of forgiveness, healing, peace, and unconditional love.

The work of World Relief through partner global churches is turning the tide together with many millions of global players in the sea of HIV and AIDS. As pills to protect and sustain life are dispensed by ministries of health, the church is extending skills to change behaviors promoting wise choices regarding sexuality and marriage. As the Global Fund for HIV, AIDS, and TB seeks funds for coffers to prevent and care for persons with AIDS, the church opens its vast volunteer base to provide home care.  As rock stars like Bono lend their influence to advocate for millions of orphans and youth affected by AIDS, peer youth educators in grass-thatched churches use music and games to build life skills that encourage delaying sex until marriage.

Why not join us this very week, in committing your support to stem the tide and save Mweni’s generation?  We invite you to peer into the lives of church and World Relief volunteers in Haiti, Sudan, Kenya, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, India, Cambodia, and Papua, Indonesia. Learn how they were equipped to address the stigma and fear of HIV in their countries and how today they are changing the face of the epidemic in their country—one precious life at a time, for all time.

Debbie Dortzbach is the Senior Health Advisor at World Relief, based in Baltimore, MD and author of "The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do" with W. Meredith Long.

Photos by Marianne Bach and Benjamin Edwards