By Debbie Meroff
"My prayer is that this training will affect all of our hearts--breaking them, healing them” and that it will equip our hearts, heads and hands to become channels of hope."
The words were from one of the four excellent trainers at AIDSLink's first-ever European facilitators' training, being held in the beautiful Forterocca training facility near Turin in Italy from 25 October to 1 November. What Robert said made a deep impression on the 13 of us who had gathered from five continents. Our knowledge of HIV and AIDS ranged from the most basic level to many years of experience, but this course was forcing all of us to take a hard look at our faith along with the facts.
Hilke, a student in Germany, made and sold jewellery to raise the money to attend. She plans to use the training when she goes into missions, possibly in South Africa.
Peter, the UK Director of ACET (AIDS Care Education & Training), came because he wanted to learn how others are addressing the problems of stigma, and how they are engaging with the church in a strategic way.
Chris and Lorraine, who work in Eastern Europe were anxious to see how they could incorporate HIV and AIDS awareness along with the drugs education they do.--Transmission by injection is skyrocketing in parts of Europe.
My own goal was to get better equipped to communicate the truth about the pandemic and to be more proactive in raising awareness, both in writing and speaking. Although Europeans like to believe that it isn't a major problem on the Continent, more and more thousands are being infected by the virus, and a huge percentage of them are marginalised.
The sessions ran from 7:15 to early evening, allowing only occasional glimpses of the stunning Italian Alps surrounding our conference facility. We had a new language to learn with words like CD4 count, viral load, MSMs and opportunistic infections. And we had to practice ways to be effective educators using role play, group interaction, quizzes to challenge right and wrong perceptions.
I loved every intensive hour of it. I was humbled, awakened, shaken and thrilled to realise that even the least of God's followers has something of infinite value to offer the 33 million who are infected with AIDS and the hundreds of millions more who are affected. The sad thing was that only 13 of us took advantage of this AIDSLink training, when there should have been 300. Do yourself a favour. Don't miss out next time around.