Here in the good old US of A we hear a lot about AIDS. Not as much as we used to but still a lot. But be honest with yourself. Do you know anyone with HIV/AIDS? Have you ever met someone with HIV/AIDS? For most of us, the answer would be no. I can tell you that it was no for me. In my nice, insulated little life here in the frigid north I know no one who struggles with this. I think it is hard to truly visualize this disease if you don't have a face to put with the name. And now I do.
When we were in Uganda, visiting up in Bundibugyo, we were privileged to attend the last meeting of a 4 day workshop on HIV/AIDS. When we hear the word workshop we think of health care professionals learning about the disease, how to treat it, what to do. That wasn't it. All the women and men who attended this particular workshop, who graduated and got their certificates. These people are living daily with the disease.
These are flesh and blood people. They are mothers, grandmothers, fathers. They have children. They continue to have children and father children, even after the diagnosis. That is one of the things that my new friend Pat and the Drs. Myhre (Jennifer and Scott) deal with in Bundi. That even after diagnosis women continue to have children, rolling the dice as to whether those children will be HIV positive, will respond to treatment.
These women and men are amazing to me. I am such a comfort loving Westerner. I like my hot showers and my tap water that is safe to drink. My relish getting in my car and driving to the store if I forgot something or if I want to make something that I don't have the ingredients for. I expect that when I flip the light switch on my wall that my lights will come on, bright and comforting. I don't have to spend hours getting water, I don't have to walk along the side of the road to get to the market. I don't have to carry things on my head (a good thing I am thinking).
And lest you think it is just a problem for women there were also men at this workshop. When this man got up and gave his testimony he said something that just shook me. He said, "I thank God that he gave me AIDS." Huh? What did he say? Did he just say that he thanked God that He had given him AIDS. Yes he did. He knows that the Lord has given him a purpose in his life now and that the Lord isn't going to take him home until that purpose is done. All I could think is WOW.
My friend Pat works with these men and women. She sees the daily struggles, the women coming in who continue to have babies even knowing the risks. She sees women dying, babies dying, struggles overcome and children who are well despite the odds. She is a woman of strength. As workshop participants got up to give their testimonies the common theme that ran through everything was their thanks for Pat and all that she does for them, their advocate.
Oh, and lest you think this was a totally depressing thing to go to. Let me assure you that it was entirely the opposite. These people were celebrating the ending of the workshop and their successful completion of it. A local official, one whom Pat said was a "good one" was there to speak to the participants. There were certificates that were given out for successful completion and then of course, we had to have a party!!!
These are men and women of strength and courage. They might not think so, but I say they are. And whenever I think of HIV/AIDS I am going to think of them, and I will be changed.