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AIDS—Responding to the challenge
Think of the children who have died because their parents made the wrong choices and placed them under the hood of a death sentence. Think of the children who are orphans because their parents died from Aids—both parents. Think of the children in school who have been discriminated against because their parents had Aids. Think of the mother in Barbados who was harassed and threatened, because the villagers knew she had Aids. Think of the wife in Trinidad who gave her husband Aids. He died and she is still alive. But his friends have vowed to pound and hound her until she leaves the country. She cannot find a job in this twin-island republic.
Think of the youth who went for a test and discovered that she was HIV positive. She was so traumatised that she went into a state of depression and eventually committed suicide. Think of the middle aged man in Guyana who gave his girlfriend Aids. She died and then he died. The human face of Aids includes pain, emotional distress, depression, rejection, guilt, collapsing self-esteem, destruction of families. Think of the grandparents in Uganda taking care of their 36 grandchildren. These grandparents had nine children who became parents. Aids destroyed eight of them, with one struggling to survive. But this is a compound tragedy because these two grandparents with a big, big heart are blind. When they die, these 36 children could be orphans, unless there is a significant intervention. This demand for unconditional love provides a huge opportunity for the church.
Think of the mother in the Caribbean whose daughter was affected by a maxi-taxi driver. She was one of 30 youth who became the target of a guy who had revenge in his heart and decided that he would infect every possible female student with Aids. This mother sent her daughter to New York to die, to escape the shame and the pain. Religious leaders must be role models of caring and sharing. We must respond consistently and compassionately to this pandemic that continues to threaten millions of individuals. Those who die suffer pain, and their relatives and friends have memories that continue to plague them. What is our response? Let us study current trends:
The numbers of new HIV infections and deaths from Aids are falling globally, according to new statistics from the UN’s programme on HIV/Aids. There are signs that the epidemic is declining. It says, however, stigma and discrimination continue to cause problems for the estimated 33 million people living with HIV. Last year there were 2.6 million new HIV infections. This is down almost 20 per cent since the peak of the Aids epidemic in 1999. In 2009, 1.8 million died from Aids-related illnesses, down from 2.1 million in 2004. There is a mixed picture in other parts of the world.
Eastern Europe and central Asia show sharp rises in new infections and Aids-related deaths. HIV has become the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age worldwide, the UN programme on HIV/Aids says. One of the key issues, it says, is that up to 70 per cent of women worldwide have been forced to have unprotected sex. UNAids says such violence against women must not be tolerated. “By robbing them of their dignity, we are losing the opportunity to tap half the potential of mankind to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” said executive director Michel Sidibe.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 60 per cent of those living with HIV are women and in southern Africa, for example, young women are about three times as likely to be infected with HIV than young men of the same age.
We have the enormous task of responding to the screams, the requests, the dysfunctional heart-beat, the search for meaning, the struggle for stability, a mechanism to cope with grief and despair.
We can no longer afford the luxury of only responding to low-risk communities. We have to engage youth and adults in high-risk areas. When our daughters and sons are imprisoned by their own recklessness, when our girls are trapped in the homes of drug dealers and kidnappers, we must respond. We cannot wait for their funerals to make pretty speeches and sermons.
This is the hour to make a difference. In fact, like Joseph, we must exercise faith in God and see horrific experiences as the preparation for a mega ministry, the shaping of character to conquer the giants. We want to be famous and prosperous like Joseph without the furnace of abandonment, without the depression of the pit. We want the elevation without the temptation. We want the recognition without the imprisonment. We want the skills without the commitment. We want to be giants without Babylon’s furnace. We want success without walking in the dark hole of the lion’s den. We want to go in the palace, but we don’t want the appointment with God in the prison. We cannot back down from the challenges. We cannot desire privileges without developing the commitment that would enable us to make the sacrifices required to fulfil the mission.
There are several labels attached to our youth. They are called the lost, depressed, angry and hopeless generation. But there is an expression that merits attention: the disconnected generation. Therefore, this is the challenge—to reconnect this generation through meaningful and genuine relationships. According to Dr Josh Mc Dowell, parents and youth leaders can adopt three counter-productive strategies:
• Autocratic—Strong control but little support. The autocratic approach communicates, “You’ll do it my way, or else!”
• Permissive—Strong support but little control. The permissive approach communicates, “You can do anything you want.”
• Indifferent—Little or no control and little or no support. The indifferent approach communicates, “I really don’t care what you do.”
As we seek to help youth make positive choices and internalise spiritual values, let us employ the authoritative approach utilising the “correct balance of control and support.”
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