Running for Kariobangi

Over the years I’ve run in plenty of road races, especially in the past few years as my Dad and I have started running half and full marathons. This winter I’ve admittedly been pretty lazy, and my Dad and I needed a kick start in our training for some races this summer. Enter the 2nd annual East Cobb Red Run. A group of friends and CARE for AIDS donors who support our Kariobangi center organized the 10k, 5k and 1 mile fun run with over 300 runners. Unlike the monsoon conditions at the 2015 Red Run, it was an absolutely perfect morning for a race! It was fun to see the families and businesses of East Cobb wake up early to help support families affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya, and even though my legs are still a little sore, it was an amazing event to be a part of!

Thanks to our Kariobangi center supporters, all the runners, sponsors and those who cheered us on!

Fortunes From the Garbage

April 21, 2016

John Otolo is a driver by training. He is married with 2 wives and 5 children. He lives in Mombasa with his family

About one year ago, john enrolled at the CFA Tudor center. With a large family to feed and irregular jobs as a driver, John was not a happy man. When he joined the program, he focused on learning something that would transform his economic status. From the several skills that were taught, he focused on beadwork; paper beads and plastic beads.

“When I realized that all the plastic bags scattered on the road can change my life, I walked around collecting them like a mad man, because I now knew the value of recycling them” says John with a big laugh.  

“Many people thought that I was insane when they saw me collect garbage, including my wife, but later, when she realized the value of what I was collecting, she does not pass a plastic bag by the roadside, she will collect it and bring it to me to transform it into the beautiful jewels.’’

The skills he learned have changed his life- he is able to make key holders, necklaces and bracelets among other things and sell them. As the group was graduating earlier this year, he proudly shared how he has been able to expand his market to his local home in another county. He is now able to sell his products in Mombasa and in his home town. His financial situation has greatly improved and his business is continuing to grow each day.

5 Things You Should Know About HIV

Just 10 days ago, April 7th, was World Health Day. In honor of that, I wanted to offer our readers a crash course in HIV/AIDS 101. Every day in my conversations, I realize that there are still many gaps in people’s knowledge about AIDS. But, don’t mistake me for an expert. Just a couple months ago, a friend of CARE for AIDS and HIV researcher at Emory, Evonne Woodson, came in to help our team brush up on our HIV/AIDS knowledge, and we learned a ton. If you are aware of these 5 aspects of HIV, you will know more than 99% of the world.

1.     Life expectancy with HIV/AIDS

Although HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) cannot be cured, it can be managed extremely well. Even people in extreme poverty can live long lives with proper diet, hygiene, and adherence to medication. In most countries, the life expectancy of those with HIV is equal to or approaching that of the general population. One of our clients said this, “If someone asked me if I wanted cancer or HIV, I would choose HIV.” She understands that she will have a full life despite her HIV.

2.     The state of the global crisis

Most people have lost all sense of urgency about HIV because they believe it is under control. While there has been a lot of progress, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2014, there were approximately 2 million new infections globally. In that same year, about 1.2 million people died of AIDS-related causes. This means that the number of people living with HIV is growing by nearly a million a year. These are people that, at some time, will need care: medical, emotional, and spiritual. The costs of caring for these people are increasing but the funds available are decreasing. In Kenya, there are 100,000 new infections annually and 58,000 deaths. We need to continue working hard to see both of these numbers decrease.

3.     Difference between HIV and AIDS

HIV is a virus that causes a condition called AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). CD4 count is a common measure of how compromised your immune system is.  The test measures the amount of T-cells in your blood, which are a type of white blood cells that help fight off infection. A healthy person without HIV may have a CD4 count anywhere from 500 to 1500 cells/mm3.  If a person with HIV has a CD4 count lower than 200 cell/mm3, they are diagnosed with AIDS. HIV is typically in a latent state for about 6-10 years before the symptoms of AIDS begin. At that point, without treatment, someone will live for about 3 more years.

4.     Types, strains, and subtypes

There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. Within HIV-1, there are four different strains of the virus: Group M, N, O, and P. HIV-1 Group M is the strain that is responsible for the global epidemic. But it doesn’t stop there. There are at least 9 main subtypes under Group M (A, B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K). Then, on top of that, there are many more subtypes that are combinations of the ones above. They are called Circulating Recombinant Forms. This is one of the many factors that make this virus so difficult to stop. Although many of the HIV treatments have proven effective against multiple subtypes, it is important to note that about half the world has subtype C but most of the U.S. has subtype B. Therefore, a disproportionate amount of funding and research has gone into addressing subtype B.

5.     Treatment as Prevention (TASP)

 One of the newest schools of thought on how to address this global issue is something called treatment as prevention. This basically means that the best way to prevent the spread of HIV is to begin treatment as early as possible. In doing so, it will suppress the virus to such a low level that it will be very unlikely that someone would be able to transmit it to someone else. The World Health Organization has adopted this “test and treat” philosophy and recommended that anyone testing positive for HIV should be treated immediately. Opponents of this theory contend that this early treatment will be too costly and could create more drug-resistant strains of HIV. In Kenya, HIV-positive individuals qualify to receive treatment when their CD4 count drops below 350 cells/mm3.  TASP has been used extremely effectively to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Some studies have found a less than 1% chance of transmission when the mother is treated with antiretroviral medication during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding.

I hope you feel a little more educated about HIV. It is important to remember that the medical intervention is not the only aspect, and CARE for AIDS is working hard to provide a holistic response.

What did you learn about HIV that you didn’t already know?

Sources: avert.org and aids.gov

Everything Works Out

April 14, 2016

We were three men on a motorcycle, each of us with a bag or two, driving too quickly down a bumpy, rocky red-dirt jungle road. We came around a bend in the road and saw a check-point set up by the Cameroonian police. This unpaved unmaintained road was a major artery connecting two cities in the English-speaking part of the country. The police were checking licenses and registrations for the taxis, motorcycle-taxis, and trucks transporting goods.

When he saw the check-point, our motorcycle driver accelerated. I found out later that he did not have a driver’s license, and he was not interested in stopping because an interaction with the police would mean paying a bribe that would take away any profit from what we were paying him to transport me to the village where I was living at the time.

When the police saw that we weren’t slowing down, they pulled up the rope they were using to block the road. The police later claimed that they didn’t see us coming and wouldn’t have pulled the rope if they had. Regardless of intent, the rope came up right as we were passing through the check point. My memory of that moment is a blur. My forward momentum collided me with the men in front of me who were being pulled back by the rope as the bike spun out from underneath us and threw us and our bags across the road.

I stood up as quickly as I could, assessed myself and found a big tear in my pants down the side of my right leg. I could see the skin underneath was a mess of cuts, dirt, and little rocks imprinted in my skin.

The driver and police yelled at each other for a minute or two until they all felt they had expressed themselves, and then we got back on the motorcycle and continued.

As we drove away, I thought to myself, “Well….that happened.”

 

__________

 

Between Cameroon, Kenya and Djibouti, I have spent about four years of my life on the African continent. The experiences I’ve had have shaped me and taught me. I was reminded of this recently when someone commented, “You’re not a normal American.” That took me by surprise, and I’ve been thinking about it and wondering what makes me abnormal. Well, the list of things that make me abnormal could get really long, so I have been limiting it to how I view and approach the world differently because of my time in Africa.

My story about the motorcycle illustrates one of the biggest shifts I have seen in myself because of my experiences on the continent. The American culture I grew up in was focused on the individual. I was taught to be competitive, and in that merit-based struggle, to be the best. I was told from the beginning – directly or indirectly – that I could be whatever I wanted to be, and that if at first I didn’t succeed, to try, try again. This taught me that I am in control of my fate, and that my large and small-scale successes and failures are direct results of my efforts. As a result, I tend to take great pride in my achievements, and my response to failure is to immediately try to do something to fix it or to somehow prove I am not defined by that failure.

One of the biggest things I have learned from living in Cameroon, and now in Kenya, is that I am not in control of my fate, and not really in control of much at all. I’ve learned in a lot of ways that life is sometimes something that happens, not something I do. During my time in Cameroon with the Peace Corps, that lesson was a hard one to learn and involved several frustrating emotional breakdowns, because I felt like an out-of-control failure when I couldn’t make things happen by my effort.

Matthew 5:45 is a verse that has given me comfort in those times of learning: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Basically, what I get out of that verse is that things happen. Life happens. Things are happening that we cant control and that have nothing to do with our inherent value. This is true of me. It is true of the people around me. Regardless of situations, we all have value. My faith teaches me this, too. Sometimes my American mindset makes it hard to accept that nothing I do and none of the circumstances of my life affect my standing with God. He loves me and sees value in me regardless of - and in spite of - my actions, my achievements, and my failures. In fact, He loves me and you so much that he sent his Son so that whoever believes in Him will be saved. This is an amazing thing - and needed, because in the end we are all out-of-control failures.

 

I am still exploring this topic, and I am aware that - as in everything - things aren’t black and white. I have to keep in mind that there is a tension between my lack of control and a personal responsibility for my actions. Our actions and choices can sometimes change things and create impact - for good or bad. Similarly, I don’t want to discredit the merits of my cultural background that focuses on and values the individual. There is a balance here that I am trying to find and live in. As I am learning about contentment and my lack of control, I remember that, although God is ultimately in control, I still have personal responsibility to live well, and for me that means a life of faith lived in submission and obedience to God, because that is where I have learned to find contentment.

CARE for AIDS’ intervention into the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS is an example of these balances. We take people who are struggling to accept HIV - which happened to them - and help them understand that this doesn’t affect their value as humans or their ability to be loved and accepted in community and by God. On the other side of the balance, we counsel them towards taking responsibility for their situation to manage their status, live healthily, and protect their loved ones from being infected. This takes a lot of effort on their part, and I am extremely proud of our clients who see positive change in their lives. We help them accept their HIV status, but we also equip them to move forward and make the best of their circumstances. It’s not just “Well, that happened…”, it’s also, “Let’s make the best of this”, because we do have control over some things and with those things we have responsibility to act, to intervene, to work.

 

____________

 

After being clothes-lined by corrupt police off a motorcycle that was being driven by an unlicensed driver, I could have questioned my life decisions and been angry at myself for being in that situation. I could have been angry at the driver for speeding up and for not telling me he didn’t have a license. I could have been mad at the police for pulling the rope and for being generally corrupt. I could have been mad that the major road between these cities wasn’t paved – even though on paper it was – and that this was representative of the political oppression of the people living in that area.

I could have been mad about a lot of things, and because of this, my response to this situation had to be “Well, that happened”; it had to be acceptance. Otherwise, I would have been overwhelmed by anger and frustration about things I can’t control, and I would have directed my anger at people who also aren’t in control.

In Cameroon, people liked to say nothing works, but everything works out. I said this often during my time there, because it would make me laugh, and would also give me a sense of relief that everything was going to be fine. I learned that accepting life and people as they come means that I stop judging people and situations by what they could or should be, I start to accept them as they are. In that acceptance there is a freedom to be and to love.

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