Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Hi folks,

It's World AIDS Day. Still no cure, and no vaccine.

I think about guys like Victor, from Bolgatanga in northern Ghana. He was a construction guy, moving all around the country working on various projects. Far from wife and family. He got lonely....he also got HIV.

I visited him for the first time in 1999 or 2000. He looked like a rail, could barely speak, even through a translator/caregiver. His room smelled like...well, I won't go there. He was laying on a bed with barely any clothes and a thin blanket. His wife had, understandably, left him, and his larger family was afraid to be around him. When I held his hand, he could do nothing but cry silently and ask for help.

At the same time, Catholic Relief Services was developing a more robust approach to the AIDS crisis in Africa. The focus was, obviously, on countries where the prevalence of the disease was highest. Ghana was not among the priority countries, but was able to benefit from the coattails of the funding streams that were opening up for HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation programs.

One project, in particular, allowed Victor to receive a few medicines and a nutritious diet. Just enough to get him back on his feet.

Within one year, he was walking around, had reconciled with his wife, and was asking me what he could do to pay back his perceived debt. We encouraged him to speak to one of the nuns who were running the project, and see if he could be an AIDS advocate. Within a short while, he was traveling to schools and parishes (in towns other than his own, due to the stigma), to share his story with kids and young adults.

One year later, he was serving as the foreman on a construction project for the Shekinah Clinic in Tamale, funded by Catholic Relief Services and other donors. This clinic ministers to the poorest of the poor, with free health care, spiritual nourishment, and the absolute love of its founder Dr. David Abdulai. Many patients come with their entire families, some from other countries, to seek the care and healing provided by the mostly volunteer staff and Dr. Abdulai.

The last time I saw Victor, he was giving me a tour of the new blood-testing lab, smiling and laughing.

I am not sure whether he is still with us, but I am sure that he found happiness, purpose, and some degree of health thanks to the work of Catholic Relief Services, its dedicated staff, innovative partners, and generous donors.

How many more are there like Victor, who have not been reached by projects like these? How many will continue to contract the HIV virus because they are not informed?

If you would like to help, contact Catholic Relief Services, or alternatively, I can put you in touch directly with Shekinah Clinic. I have a friend who travels to Ghana quite frequently and could help to ensure your contributions get directly to the Clinic.

Love and Peace to all!

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