Written by Cathie DeGonia, Stand With Africa Campaign Communication Coordinator
Last year, Lutheran World Relief, the ELCA World Hunger Program and LCMS World Relief began to explore the idea of joining together in a special and sustained initiative to tackle pressing problems in Africa with churches and communities there. Partner groups in Africa and world mission staff in both the LCMS and ELCA soon joined the planning. By Lent this year Stand With Africa: A Campaign of Hope was ready for launch.
HIV/AIDS was chosen as the first campaign focus. From afar and in certain places in Africa, it's a crisis that is simply overwhelming. According to United Nation's estimates, of the 34 million people living with AIDS worldwide, 24.5 million reside in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 13.2 million AIDS orphans, 12.4 million, or 94 percent, are Africans. Last year AIDS claimed 5,500 African lives each day. This disease and the struggle against it are intensifying. How can something like Stand With Africa even begin to make a difference in the lives of families and communities affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis? Can it really be "A Campaign of Hope?" Is there hope? The answer is "Yes!"
LWR's Kathryn Wolford reaches for Romans 8:24 in reply. "'Now hope that is seen is not hope,' she says. "The statistics of HIV/AIDS in Africa are daunting, but there are already examples where concerted action by churches, citizens' groups and governments has turned the tide. With vision and the hope that come from faith, we can defeat despair and chart a future filled with health and life for the children of Africa."
The campaign, in fact, is beginning with partners and projects in Africa that are already educating people about the spread of HIV/AIDS, helping AIDS orphans get a start in life, and enabling AIDS widows to earn a living for themselves and their families.
The Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in Ethiopia, an ELCA partner church, is training 300 educators each year for five years. These people will teach HIV/AIDS prevention in their communities. Workshops are held to educate church members about the disease so that they in turn are able to communicate HIV prevention information to as many people as possible. The 3.3 million members of Mekane Yesus would make an army of AIDS educators in Ethiopia.
It is estimated that one third of the adult population in Zambia is HIV-positive. In a Lutheran World Federation program there, community leaders are using lectures, drama and printed material to educate people on how to change their behavior in order to prevent HIV/AIDS. The message at these educational activities is, "to prevent AIDS, you must change your behavior."
In Tanzania and Kenya, Lutheran World Relief partner Operation Crossroads Africa is working with families and communities. In Kenya, near Lake Victoria, HIV/AIDS awareness is taught in schools. In Tanzania, teachers at 10 schools for AIDS orphans receive assistance. This campaign partnership is reaching more than 5,000 people.
In Uganda, a special school serves a unique district. Impoverished by war and the AIDS epidemic, the Rakai district today has a large population of orphans. Kitteredde Construction Institute works with approximately 240 AIDS orphans and underprivileged youths to provide vocational training and the practical skills needed to live on their own. Students learn fishing, farming, carpentry, masonry and electrical wiring at this LWR partner program.
The story is different in Senegal, however. There the number of people testing HIV-positive is actually decreasing. Africa Consultants International raises public awareness among groups at risk. Staff helps the Peace Corps educate truckers about risky behavior, and works with youth groups, teachers, and street theater. This LWR partner is translating educational materials including videos, slide shows and printed material into local languages. ACI is also training health post nurses to care for people with HIV/AIDS.
Thanks to community and church groups like these, yes, Stand With Africa can help win the battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa. It's a long road, but the organizations behind the campaign already have a running start. "AIDS is an escalating problem for Africa that threatens life and quality of life." Elaine Richter Bryant, LCMS World Relief director, says, "But U.S. Lutherans joining together to Stand With Africa dramatically increases our potential to make a world of difference in the lives of many."
In 1990 Uganda started anti-AIDS programs with 14 percent of the adult population HIV-infected. Today that rate has dropped to 8 percent. In Senegal, which began to fight AIDS in 1986, the HIV infection rate has dropped to below 2 percent. Supporting HIV/AIDS programs at the grassroots makes a difference. There's room to take a stand. There is hope, even some that can be seen.
Other Articles of Interest:
What Would Jesus Do About Aids?
by Jonathan Frerichs, LWR Communication Director
Standing With Africa
by LWR President, Kathryn Wolford
"The Reality of HIV/AIDS in Africa"
An article written by Asenath Omwega, LWR Regional Representative East Africa