Canadians witness ‘hope and joy’ during visit with HIV/AIDS sufferers

By on April 21, 2006

A Canadian-Anglican delegation in mid-March visited Kenya to look at the HIV/AIDS situation there and came home enthused by the “hope” and “great faith” they saw in people living with the disease as well as the staff of the Anglican Church of Kenya, who have been actively involved in HIV/AIDS and development work. “We were all impressed with the people. I think some of our people were prepared to just see a lot of tragedy; what really impressed them was that in the midst of poverty and tragedy, there is just so much hope and joy,” said Debra Fieguth, social action ministry co-ordinator of the diocese of Ontario. Ms. Fieguth was one of 11 representatives from the diocese who traveled last March to Mt. Kenya central and Mt. Kenya east, along with three staff from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). “The trip was an amazing opportunity…not only to learn about HIV and AIDS but also the church in Kenya,” said Evan McShane, 17, the youngest member of the delegation, who is a server at St. George’s parish, Trenton, Ont. He praised staff at the church-run Christian Community Services (CCS), which receives grants from PWRDF. “They’re so hardworking. They’re knowledgeable and very dedicated…their work is really hands-on,” he said. “They go to (a person’s) house themselves and would plant stuff in the person’s garden…They just don’t tell them how to do it, they do it for them,” he said, referring to the CCS’ integrated approach to HIV-AIDS, which includes teaching approaches to better health and nutrition.

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This support has been crucial for people, especially those dealing with HIV/AIDS whether by infection or the death of loved ones, said Beth Baskin, PWRDF public engagement co-ordinator, who joined the trip. She said a member of the delegation had expected to feel “despair and pity” in Kenya. “What she had discovered was a real sense of hope, a real sense of regardless of what life has given us we have a place in the community; we have resources, the partnership and support from the church in many cases.” UNAIDS estimates that about 2.1 million adults and children lived with HIV/AIDS in Kenya; the country has the ninth-highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. Ms. Fieguth said it was good for members of her diocese to see “how the money that is sent from the pews from our Anglican parishes in Canada is really put to good use.” While in Kenya, the delegation also had a chance to meet Kenyans living with HIV and AIDS, as well as orphans of the victims. Ms. Fieguth was struck by the story of Charity, 21, who cares for her two-year-old daughter and six other siblings since both her parents have died of AIDS. “She’s gotten an offer of marriage from a man who could provide for her but she felt like she was in a dilemma because it was not fair to ask him to take on all her siblings as well,” she said. “The relatives weren’t willing to take on all the children and so here she was, at her young age, feeling so responsible for so many people, not really knowing what to do about it.” Ms. Fieguth said her group also met with a young couple, both HIV-positive, who have three children. The man, Daniel, “was obviously very sick and they didn’t have much at all; I just felt sad for these little kids and what’s gonna happen to them.” Ms. Baskin, whose visit to Kenya was her first, said she was humbled when people thanked them for coming “because we’re representing the church and the funding that’s supporting the staff that’s supporting them.” She said that the delegation had felt that it was them who should be thankful for the experience. “How do you tell folks that in their experiences they’re changing who we are and how we see the world? For me, one of the strangest things was realizing within 24 hours that none of my ways of processing the world were valid. It was all so beyond and so different from what I’ve seen and experienced in Kenya.” Ms. Fieguth said members of the diocesan delegation were expected to speak about their visit to churches. Other members of the delegation were Beth Calwell and Melyssa Kerr of St. Thomas, Belleville; Pam Zatterberg and Rev. Dave Smith of St. Mary Magdalene, Napanee; Beth Lorimer, St. James’, Kingston; Lori-Anne Jameson, St. Peter’s Collins Bay; Rev. Peggy Hudson, St. James’ Kemptville; John Mactavish, St. Paul’s Delta; Chris Coyle of Camden East; Zaida Bastos, PWRDF Africa program co-ordinator; and Glen Spurrell, PWRDF Africa associate.

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