Friday, October 24, 2008

Zambia


Today, I am back in the Kampala office after spending a week in Zambia. Zambia was an experience unlike any other I have had in my travels so far and was a life changing experience. I spent most of my time about 4 1/2 hours north of Lusaka in the Copper Belt with Beki (short for Bektember), the HIV/AIDS coordinator and Enelise who also works with CRWRC in Zambia. The photograph on the left is of the largest open air mine in the world. You can see how barren and stripped the land has become due to the mining industry. As in many countries in Africa, jobs are really difficult to find, so men from all over Zambia travel to this area to work in the mines. The work is really labor intensive, dirty and dangerous. Most miners develop a bad cough/lung problems, and have eye problems from all the dust. They also live under the constant threat of cave-ins. Another source of income in the Copper Belt is the trucking industry. Trucks wait at the border between Zambia and Congo for anywhere from 1-2 months (the photo on the right shows just a few of the hundreds of trucks waiting to clear customs/cross the border.) The men just sit in their trucks in 100+ degree heat, away from their families doing nothing. Both of these industries have created a sort of 'perfect storm' for the HIV/AIDS virus. The men who work in the mines and as truckers are truly surviving instead of living. The darkness that they live in has contributed towards the commercial sex industry that many woman are working in because they also have no other way to provide for themselves and their children. It's a tangled web of darkness and suffering that has led to an HIV/AIDS rate in this area of 20%. In church on Sunday, this hit me the hardest as I looked down the pew I was sitting in. There were five of us in the pew, which meant that according to the HIV/AIDS rate, one of us should be HIV positive. The overall HIV rate for Zambia is around 16% and in Lusaka it is 18% which means that 500 people die per month in the capitol city alone.

CRWRC is working with the Reformed Church of Zambia trying to combat these astonishingly high numbers - trying to not only stop the spread of HIV/AIDS but also care for those who are infected. We spent day after day visiting people in their homes, hearing their stories and witnessing the caring relationships the Home Based Caregivers have established with their HIV positive clients. We spent time with tons of AIDS orphans (remember, an orphan has lost either one of both parents) and their caregivers as well - including this lovely grandmother on the left who is caring for 7 grandchildren. She had 10 children, all of which have died, and their children have been spread out amongst relatives to care for them. Their caregiver, Daisy, is working with this grandma and kids and has established a powerful connection with them through giving support by counseling, some small food support and educating the grandmother on how she can care for her grandchildren. We also had a chance to visit a community based school, where the teachers work for free, the children pay a really small amount for school fees, or none at all if they cannot afford it, and are allowed to attend school without a uniform. The cost of the uniform keeps so many children out of school here, so it was great to see them all learning in regular clothes. We also visited a hospice which was so special for me because of the time I had spent at the AIDS hospice in Pacifica.

I think one of the things I really appreciated about
my time in Zambia was the personal connections I made with people - both staff, volunteers and people being cared for. Even though I was only there a week, I felt like I really got to know people. I don't know exactly why, but I felt closer to the patients we visited more than any of the others I have met. The man on the right lost his sight two years ago after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. When we found him, he thought his legs were paralyzed from the virus as well. He was so scared of what the virus might do to him, he had stopped walking, which in turn had caused his limbs to stop working. He had become paralyzed because of his fear, not HIV/AIDS. Rhoda (in the blue shirt) is trained as a nurse, and helped him to get to his feet and start walking. I had a chance to pray with him at the end, and Beki took a picture while we were praying I am so thankful to have. It was one of many amazing experiences that I know have changed my life for the better.

My week in Zambia was probably the most difficult for me emotionally, but also the best for me spiritually. The things I saw and heard are forever burned into my memory which I am so thankful for - I know that I will leave Africa a different girl than when I came. I will be in Kampala for the next 9 days before I jump on a plane home, and will be furiously typing away for the rest of my time here. I have at least 12 stories I want to write before I leave, and am hoping to finish 15 - a tall order for just a few days. So keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I slave away over my laptop. I look forward to sharing the stories and photos with you when I get back!
-Kristen

2 comments:

rubyslipperlady said...

I can't wait to read all the stories. You are a gift. Thank you for coming to Africa to be with people, love people, listen to people and share their stories.

Thank you for following Jesus to Africa and back. I know that the journey is just beginning and He has much for you to do back home.

Colleen said...

Thinking of you and praying for you!!!
~Colleen