World Aids Day - Advent 1
I’m not sure who chose 1st December as the date for World AIDS Day, but the beginning of the countdown to Christmas Day somehow seems appropriate.
The whole season of Advent is about waiting for the light to break through the darkness, bringing with it an end to despair and a true and meaningful hope for the future.
There have been significant developments around HIV and AIDS since it first appeared in the 1980s. While there is still no cure or vaccine, there is medication - antiretrovirals (ARVs) - which, if they are able to access it, can enable people living with HIV to lead a relatively normal life.
One of the biggest challenges, however, remains the stigma and discrimination which so many people living with HIV still encounter, whether here in Scotland, or overseas.
While the incidence of HIV and AIDS is not as widespread as in parts of Africa, it is an ever-increasing issue in Thailand. Sangklaburi is an isolated district on Thailand’s western border, very close to Myanmar. Official statistics suggest a population of 10,000 but it is more likely to be four times that number including those who have crossed the border from Myanmar.
An inspirational project
And it is here that we find Dodo, an inspirational woman working with the Sangklaburi AIDS project supported by the Church of Scotland HIV Programme. Dodo began the project in 2002 alongside Mission partner Jane Fucella after becoming aware of the practical needs and desperate loneliness felt by people living with HIV.
The Sangklaburi AIDS project employs 3 full-time workers (2 in Myanmar and one in Thailand), and has 9 volunteers, 7 of whom are themselves HIV positive. They are working with 84 people living with HIV and their families, all of whom are particularly vulnerable. Each family is visited regularly in their homes, and receive support, advice and encouragement.
Dodo and her staff work particularly closely with the refugees who need life-saving ARV medication, advocating strongly on their behalf. Such advocacy involves a tremendous amount of time, determination and patience.
The project also helps out with hospital bills, transport, securing border passes, and providing hospital care and food for patients who have no family nearby. Almost a quarter of the families receive regular food supplements.
Families living with HIV find it particularly difficult to get regular or well-paid work. This may be because of stigma and discrimination within their community, or because ill-health can lead to absenteeism or dismissal.
Without a regular income, the vicious cycle of poverty kicks in – so financial support from the project helps to provide blankets, mosquito nets, and kitchen utensils, and also helps towards the costs of children’s education. It has also been possible to provide training and help for families to get started with small income-generation projects, as in setting up stalls selling vegetables, or tea shops. But life is seldom easy for any of the families.
Many of the clients
have harrowing stories to tell.
There are widows who have lost their husbands to AIDS and are now living with HIV themselves, and who feel ostracised in an unaccepting community. Children have lost parents, and are in some cases also living with HIV, which can cause problems with school attendance. Dodo, who herself has two grown up sons, cares for six children in her own home.
In her life and work, Dodo demonstrates the great
combination of Christ-like compassion and common sense.
So, as we begin our journey through Advent, starting with World AIDS Day, I salute Dodo and her team as they work to bring hope in place of despair and light to the darkness. Please hold them all in your prayers.
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