before i introduce you to the first two stories, i feel led to share this with you. i recently read that wisdom was the choice of recognizing that pain and suffering is part of the human experience. and that wisdom will allow us to melt into others, awakening our compassion. i don’t know what your thoughts are, but this resonated with me rather strongly because of my experience here in africa. i am conscious of how fortunate i am to have been born in this lifetime in a land of prosperity, freedom, and opportunity. but i could have been born into poverty, been faced with survival decisions, no opportunities. and my life would have been oh so much different. there is no way that i can walk in the shoes of those that i meet here, no way can i imagine what they have been through. most of us consider jesus as divinity. and he didn’t simply come to teach about love and compassion. he WAS love and compassion. i try to keep that in mind as i serve here. not to embrace ideologies, religiousities or rhetoric doctrines, but to do my best to emulate that goal to BE love and compassion. to lay aside judgements, walls, and fears. to give what i can – whether that is my attention, my time, my money, my talent, my heart. my love. and that. simply. is my mission.
meet ester and habiba. i was inspired by these two women. i love their hearts and their spirit to make something good happen out of their situation. there is no ‘why me’ attitude. in light of, in spite of their own challenges, they are demonstrating love and compassion to others.
ESTER is 40 years old, and never married, but has one child. as with many families in the village, members of her extended family live with her. she is a tall, big woman with a big smile and hearty laugh. in 2002, she started having health issues and symptoms that turned out to be indicators for HIV but it was 2005 before she was tested and diagnosed. like most women, she had a few boyfriends when she was younger, but she really doesn’t know who she got the virus from. ‘before’ HIV, she had a small business stand where she sold vegetables that she grew and/or gathered for sale but now she is unable to work, so struggles economically. habiba helps her with food.
a few years after diagnosis, ester and habiba decided that they needed to start an open dialogue about HIV in the village, with a priority to help the children born with HIV. they started KIWAMMA, a grass roots organization that advocates, educates and supports those in the village with HIV. when i asked her what she would really love to see KIWAMMA do in 2012, it was about the kids. currently they try to help 30 children get medical treatment and nutrition, even though they themselves struggle financially and for food themselves. although there are probably hundreds of children affected in the village, they would like to increase that number to 50 in 2012.
HABIBA was born in 1958, also never married and has two children, and members of extended family living with her. she was diagnosed in 2004, after being very sick. like in most cases, it took quite a while, many doctor visits and tests before it was discovered that she was ‘positive’. for the most part, she has remained healthy by taking medications and eating as properly as she can. eating properly, by the way, is a huge challenge for most of them. most cannot afford to. food sources not always readily available. sometimes it means a bus trip to either same or moshi (30 minutes or 2 hours respectively). however, recently she got very sick, becoming a matter of great concern for those that love her and rely upon her leadership, her grace, her spirit. the medications themselves can cause many side effects, including numbness, nausea/vomiting and others. but she approaches that like she does everything. you do what you must, and moves through it. she is what we might call an amazon, very tall, big boned woman. but her equally big heart is filled with a power that you cannot resist, and she is a source of support and spirit in this village, for those that have a disease that causes others to fear, to react, to retreat.
in fact, she said that by being open to the community about being HIV+, she and the others in the group actually now have a freedom that they didn’t have before – a freedom from the secret. they can ask openly for assistance from government agencies, they can talk about the issues, and educate others. it also helps to diminish the stigma and to a degree, the gossip as no one is talking about if she is positive or not. she is open about it!
she supports herself, and even helps those around her through hard work – she sells chipsi (we know them as fries) at a local stand, grows onions and sells those, and also has a bit of a side business digging gypsum out of the ground to sell to transporters of gypsum. honestly, i can’t imagine that all of that together brings her much income. but in the spirit of her generosity, she shares what she has with other women and children that are HIV+. and btw, the black and white image at the beginning of my previous blog – that is habiba! there was also an immediate connection with her, her energy was something i gravitated to from the beginning.
as a co-founder of KIWAMMA, her heart lies in finding ways for the children to go to school as well as the kid’s club that they formed to bring the kids without HIV together with those that do have it. to provide age appropriate education for health issues, including malaria and HIV, to help them see that they can play together, be friends and it’s all okay. to break down walls and stigmas.
especially after my visit to makanya, but because of what i live and learn here in afrika, i ask for the grace of wisdom to guide me on my path, so that i may serve God and humanity with the actions of my life. and to walk in the acts of love and compassion. and at the same time, i say thanks to God for blessing me with the time in this land, working along side of others who demonstrate their own compassion and open hearts inspiring me. people like emmason. sadock johnson. margaret. cecy. ester and habiba. i love you and am grateful for having you in my life.
if you haven’t already seen other photos from the trip to makanya village, here’s a link to the album.
and as always for those of you at home, you are loved. be love for those around you. and you have my wishes for joy. peace. bliss. health. contentment. and laughter in your life.