By Debbie Meroff
Ever wonder what's it like to:
- Make friends with men and women who have been abandoned because they have AIDS, and help them live--or die--with dignity?
- Create alternative jobs for infected transgender people who have begun a new life in Christ?
- Show orphaned kids how to dream again?
- Run a shelter for HIV-infected drug addicts who are shunned by society?
- Live every day with the virus--yourself?
The 17 different individuals from AIDSLink who met in the UK this 6-11 June could tell you.
These very special men and women arrived from five continents with mixed goals for AIDSLink International's 2013 symposium. But all were eager to discuss thoughts, exchange ideas, and strengthen each other in the tough roles God has assigned them.
A plethora of thoughts emerged from guest speakers Peter Fabian, UK Director of AIDS Care, Education and Training (ACET) and Marcy Madzikanda, from the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK's biggest NGO targeting HIV.
11:58, 11:59, 12:00. Narendra* paced slowly back and forth on the rooftop of the Hospital. Any minute he expected to see a doctor climbing the steps with a report that would tell him whether his wife, Kabita*, was also HIV positive.
Narendra first discovered that he was HIV positive six years ago while he was in the army. Shocked and ashamed, he chose to hide his status from his family and disclosed the truth only to his commanding officer.
He was able to keep his secret for years until his failing health forced him to start antiretroviral therapy (ART).
12:13, 12:14, 12:15. His friend thought that sitting in the warm January sunshine would ease Narendra’s growing anxiety, but Narendra couldn’t stop checking his watch and thinking about Kabita. He was no stranger to worry.
When he first came to the AIDSLink Nepal care center last November he was overwhelmed with the burden of maintaining the secrets he had kept for years now - that he had to take medicine twice a day, every day, for the rest of his life.
Despite years of skilled work as a mechanic, Yuraj* was jobless after a massive companywide downsizing. Weighing his options, he decided to apply for a work visa overseas.
His plans were derailed when the routine medical exam revealed that he was HIV positive. Ashamed, he did not tell his family and went to a different city to work as a driver. After a few months Yuraj became ill. His relatives took him to the hospital and doctors told Yuraj that they were going to test him for HIV. He didn’t tell them that he already knew what the result would be.
When his relatives found out that Yuraj was HIV positive, they left him in the hospital and returned home. After he was discharged he spent six months trying to drink his worries away. However abusing alcohol and ignoring his doctor’s advice only brought him back to the hospital.
We first met Angel* in Zambia in August of 2012, she told us she had “that thing”. We told her about our upcoming AIDSLink Channels Of Hope (COH) facilitators’ training and began praying with her so she could attend.
The first few days of the seven-day COH training, young Angel was silent. Several people in the course told the group that they were HIV positive and shared how that has affected their life. But Angel kept her secret to herself.
Then, in front of 35 people, Angel shared publicly for the first time in her life, “I am HIV positive.”
From that point on, Angel transformed from meekness to boldness. Her whole countenance changed. For the first time in years, she could be herself.
Angel went back to her home of Zambia and a month after the course updated our AIDSLink team.