Listening to the stories of AIDS workers
I’ve been tied up the whole of this week, getting ready to travel to Chicago on Sunday where I will be attending the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek on 7 & 8 August and where I will also be attending the Courageous Leadership Award ceremony on behalf of our church’s AIDS ministry in Swaziland on Thursday evening, the occasion which I wrote about here.
I had a professor from a college in New York with me at the church today where some of our home-based caregivers were gathered for a meeting. It was just one of those special occasions when I just felt so proud to be part of this team. She is an anthropologist and has been coming to Swaziland since 2005, to try and determine the link between religion and AIDS. She was also at the conference in Durban that I wrote about last week.
Unfortunately our time was a bit restricted, as she had another appointment later today, about a hundred miles from where we were. One of the things I realised once again today, is how important it is to ask the right question if you want to get the right answers. And through the questions she asked today I also picked up things that I had never realised before. Through her experience of interviewing church leaders in other areas of Swaziland, she had already picked up certain tendencies. She asked at one point how the caregivers experienced it when the woman of the home were diagnosed as HIV-positive. Would she tell her husband? In general this is quite a problem, because for a woman admitting to her spouse that she is HIV-positive seems to imply that she had at some time been unfaithful to him, although we obviously know that this is not necessarily the truth and very often the complete opposite.
Then one of the ladies shared an amazing story. ‘I went to see my client. She was sick. So I told her to go to the clinic so that they could find out what was wrong with her. Next week, when I returned, she told me that she had been tested and she is HIV-positive. Then she asked me not to tell her husband. “He mustn’t know!” Some weeks later, after finishing my visit to her, her husband was waiting for me a distance from the house. He walked with me until we were out of hearing distance of the home and then told me that he was very worried about himself. He seemed to be sick and he did not get any better. I told him to go to the clinic. Perhaps he had diabetes. So they should draw his blood and try to see what was causing his sickness. When I returned he was waiting for me at the gate. He told me that he had been to the clinic and they had found that he was HIV-positive. But then he asked me not to tell his wife. “She mustn’t know.”
And then I brought them together and I helped them to speak to each other and to admit that they were HIV-positive. They were so happy!’
I was deeply touched when hearing this and realised how special these caregivers were to me.
I had told the group two weeks ago that I wish I could sit down with them and start writing down all their stories of the experiences which they had had. Most of them have seen the worst cases imaginable, but they’ve also been able to work through the experiences and become stronger people because of it.
A few weeks ago I also mentioned that we had hosted a mobile clinic and I told about the young boy who had arrived with a metal rod sticking out of his knee. This morning the boy’s grandmother came to me with tears in her eyes. After the boy had been admitted to hospital (and the doctor who had done the clinic had put some pressure on the hospital), he had recovered completely. He was back at school. His leg is fine and he’s running around again.
Someone asked me this morning how we are able to go on with the work. Things like this make it worthwhile to go on. We won’t make a difference to hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. But every now and then we hear stories like this and just know that we can’t stop what we’re doing.