HIV/AIDS in Zambia
I first traveled in Africa in 1999 when I visited my oldest daughter who was attending the University of Tanzania for her junior year abroad.
I never imagined I would find myself on that continent. As a white woman who spent her childhood on the west coast and adult years on the east coast of the U.S., Africa was something else entirely. After my first visit, I found myself drawn into this other world where the landscape was wider, redder, wetter, dryer, and the people were warmer, more relaxed, stronger and happier. When I looked up at the sky at night, even the constellations were different. Each time I came to Africa, the power of this other way of living and seeing, the kindness, the courage, the beauty and vitality claimed my attention and redirected my life.
There was little evidence to the eye how the silent and growing presence of HIV/AIDS would affect this place where life was already a tightrope walk on the edge of survival. Only after many return visits and entering into the lives of the people I know there, did I begin to see the terrible pressures and relentless pain caused by the spread of the disease. Everyone I know there, almost without exception, has lost at least one family member and some have lost many. Grandparents and siblings are raising the children of dead sons, daughters and sisters and brothers. The communities are stretched to capacity. Orphanages are created when the relatives cannot support any more children. Resources are meager. International religious organizations that try to create group homes for orphans, though well-meaning, are often ignorant of local custom and fall into unworkable situations, sometimes having to abandon the very children they want to help. Fear and shame drive people into hiding, or into abandoning their families.
The Zambian government has begun some successful home care programs in rural villages where volunteers take daily care of one or two sick people in their town. Antiretroviral drugs have been made available at low or no cost, but not enough people are getting them and taking them in a consistent manner to reverse the growth of AIDS.
So why bother, many ask, when the problems seem insurmountable? By extending our hands to our fellow humans, in small gestures of support to people who have much to offer us in terms of cultural wisdom and personal strength, we all gain valuable connection.
We may not be wealthy philanthropists like the Gates or Oprah , but, in relative terms, we are wealthy. Even if we are teachers, secretaries, or plumbers, we are in the world’s top 5% economic bracket. We can’t imagine an economy where 80% of the people are below poverty level and there is little in the way of employment or education. So we do whatever is possible for us, whether it is sponsoring a child’s education or volunteering our services through non profit organizations. Or maybe purchasing an fair trade item that falls into your life, like the wooden figurine that initiated my relationship with Zambia.