Susan

Susan Wambura is one of the lucky ones.

At the time of her HIV diagnosis, she was also pregnant with her first child. As would be expected, Susan was flooded with fear about the health of her unborn child. Would the baby suffer? Would it also have to live with the virus?

Miraculously, the answer was no. In 2008, Susan gave birth to a healthy, happy baby.

I had thought my life was finished,” she says of her pregnancy and diagnosis. “I understand now, after coming to the CARE for AIDS center, that if you take your medications as prescribed, you can be safe.”

And thanks to CARE for AIDS, hundreds of lives are being saved, just like Susan and her baby.

When I came to the center, I met others like me,” she says. “And I see that life can be the same as it was [before HIV]. There are other diseases out there, and people live with them normally. HIV is the same.

Life is not that bad,” she continues. “And I have the strength now to keep on living.”


Love Is Possible

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other.” - Jean Vanier

“And they devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” - Acts 2:42


Our stomachs were full after a large meal of beef stew, chapati, cabbage and fresh bananas. Our cheeks were hurting from the laughter that hadn’t seemed to stop for the past hour. We stood up to sing and pray.

The CARE for AIDS administration has developed the practice of visiting staff in their homes if they lose someone in their family, or - as in this case - they have the joy of giving birth to a new baby. This Monday, we visited Martin, the Regional Coordinator for Nairobi East. His wife gave birth to a beautiful girl three months ago, and we paid a visit after our weekly administrative meeting.

After a wonderful meal and lots of joking and laughing, we stood up to sing a traditional song from the Kikuyu tribe. During the song, everyone dances and claps as the baby is passed around the circle, and finally given back to the parents. The song translates to the following:

“Don’t hold the baby in your left hand,

Hold it in your right hand

[Name of someone in the room], come take the baby and hold it in your right hand”

After singing, we sat down again, and Bosco (Regional Coordinator for Nairobi West) commented on how our staff feels like a family, and how good it was for us to be in Martin’s home and to have been laughing, praying and singing together for the past hour. As we prepared to leave, we each shared a few words of blessing for the newly expanded family. All of us had a similar theme in what we shared:

 “Visiting you in your home has let us see a side of you we would never see at work, and it increases our understanding of you and our love for you."

“I’ve never worked somewhere where people care so much about their coworkers to visit them in their home.”

“It’s so good to work somewhere where people care this much about each other.”

“This feels like a family.”

I realized in that moment how unique CARE for AIDS is, and how lucky I am to work here. CARE for AIDS is a christian organization, and that has a lot of implications that affect how and why we work, but I think the biggest impact it has on our organizational culture is the way we approach each other as colleagues. The secret is that we see each other first as brothers and sisters in Christ, and only secondly as colleagues. We are first a community of believers, a family. Because of this, we work together with joy and a sense of mutual respect. Visiting each other in our homes is one of the biggest factors in creating this sense of community.

Not all of us have the privilege of working in a Christian organization, or have the opportunity to eat chapati and sing Kikuyu songs about holding babies, but there is a take away here for everyone. Namely, that visiting people in their homes and eating with them produces joy, inspires respect, cultivates love, and bonds us together in community. How often are you in someone else’s home for a meal? How often do you open your home to others?

 Something I learn over and over again from Kenyans is the importance of hospitality. In a world that seems increasingly broken and divisive, hospitality is a simple and powerful way to demonstrate love and unity. Let’s reach out to our neighbors, families, and friends and prove that love is possible.

 

 

Benson

Benson’s problems with alcohol began after the disintegration of his marriage. Following the birth of their daughter in 1989, Benson says the relationship with his wife was like living on a roller coaster.

“It was up, down, up, down,” he explains. “We lived like enemies.”

When Benson’s wife left to return to the home of her parents, taking their young daughter with her, he turned to alcohol and women to help him numb the pain.

“I started drinking like crazy,” he says in a gruff voice. “It pains me even talking about it.”

But Benson maintained a positive relationship with his daughter, who is now married with a child of her own, and was eventually able to build a friendship with her mother. Tragically, Benson’s struggle with alcohol left him exposed to a number of other problems, and, in 1999, he found out he was HIV positive.

“I stayed in bed for one whole month,” he says. “My body was so weak, and I didn’t know what happened.”

Benson explains that back in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, many clinics in Kenya were hesitant to share test results with their patients. Oftentimes those who were, in fact, HIV positive were simply given medicine to take and sent home. This is what happened to Benson.

“It was taboo to talk about, even when I was admitted to the hospital,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘Why am I taking these drugs?’ And then I went to a clinic and they asked if I wanted to be tested for HIV. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’ve been waiting for!’”

CARE for AIDS entered Benson’s life when he overheard a group of women talking about the center.

“It’s a real community,” he says of his experience there. “And when I meet people who are also sick, they talk about [HIV]. I come every week and it’s useful. We talk…and I have a new hope.”


Benson's story is one of one hundred client stories captured in the CARE for AIDS coffee table book, 100 Faces. Learn more about this project here. 

 

 

Rose

When Rose greets us at her door, the stern look on her face turns into a broad, caring smile. It’s the first thing I notice about her, even if I wasn’t able to capture it with my camera at any point in our meeting. Our Impact Team visiting is the first time wazungu (foreigners), have ever come to her home, and she says if she knew we were coming so soon, she would have prepared tea! After insisting that her welcoming us into her house is hospitable enough, we begin to talk about her family, how she came to find out about her HIV status and if the CARE for AIDS program is helping her. 

Daniel, the Spiritual Counselor at Waithaka Center, tells us Rose always seems to be at the church. Without fail, she has been to every counseling session, empowerment seminar and Bible study since she started the CFA program 6 months ago. A few weeks ago, she became a Christian, and proudly displays her church membership certificate on the wall of her tiny 100 square foot home on the back alley of a muddy side street near the center of town. 

After just a few minutes of talking with her, you can sense the equal parts of strength and compassion that Rose possesses. There is a tremble in her voice when she talks about learning of her HIV status in 2008, how her husband left her, saying, “There is no hope for you now, all that is left is for you to die”. Her daughter also left when she realized Rose’s status, not only shunning her mother, but also abandoning her daughter, Grace, leaving Rose with the doubly challenging task of trying to manage her disease and raise a grandchild with no friends, family or support system. "Isolation is hard," she says, “I had no one to turn to.”

Though the CFA program, she is able to fellowship with other HIV positive people in her neighborhood. They meet at the church to share about their struggles, help each other during hard times and celebrate life together. Rose still has a lot of challenges in life. Her hands are stiff with arthritis and she has a nagging problem with high blood pressure. Work is hard to find, but she is working for a local family part time doing laundry to help pay the bills, including 12 year old Grace’s school fees. But hope is visibly present in Rose’s life, and she’s quick to tell you about the blessings she’s found, not the hardship she faces.

Before leaving, we get the chance to pray with Rose, to thank our Creator for her caring heart, quiet grace and selfless outlook on life. I tell her how proud we are to know her, and her smile creeps back onto her face as she shyly turns away. I always feel honored when clients open up and tell their story to us, and Rose is no exception. Hers is an all too typical story that we encounter in this work, but God has given us the incredible opportunity to be a part of redeeming terrible situations into lives filled with hope, community and broad, caring smiles like Rose’s. 

EYES UP

Whether it be a phone, tablet, television, or computer screen, it seems like everyone in this day and age has their attention turned to something structured by pixels.  It is a common bit of advice to encourage each other to look up from our devices and experience the life that was designed for us by our creator.

Perhaps more important than the series of events happening around us is the way we react to them.  Have you ever noticed how a difficult circumstance can exclusively change your mood and/or behavior at the drop of a dime?  Living in Atlanta, I am faced with the frustrating yet guaranteed struggle of driving my car through the city during peak traffic hours.  This is no simple task as all hours seem to be called peak hours and volume on the interstate is heavy regardless of the route.  Although this seems so trivial, the traffic often affects my temperament in a negative way.

It occurred to me that if I allow something as insignificant as a traffic jam affect my attitude, I needed a perspective check. This is when I remembered something that one of my pastors once shared with me, the concept of EYES UP - the idea to physically look up.  It is remarkable the impact this small action has in situations as small as a traffic jam or something much larger.  At the first sign of frustrated emotion, I look up and work to remember that my current circumstance is a moment of God’s design for my life. This practice grounds me so quickly and helps me to find a moment of calm in my chaos, ultimately helping me regain my joy in even the toughest of situations.

I challenge us this week to not only look up from our online notifications and emails, but to also intentionally remember to look up from our current circumstances, gain perspective, and remember our very important role in this world.

The below prayer was shared with me and it reminds me to look up, allow God to write my story, and accept his plan with open hands - I hope it encourages you as well.

The is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words and give me the spirit of Jesus.  Amen.