In Zimbabwe, relief gives HIV/AIDS patients 'lease on life'
ZVAVAHERA, Zimbabwe (BP) -- Lives are being saved and families finding hope for the future in a Zimbabwe village, at a time when the country as a whole is battling one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world.
In a partnership project between Zimbabwean Baptists and the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, not only have patients been gaining weight, but no deaths at all were reported in the village during the most recent phase of the effort, project director Aaron Mutingwende said.
When the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe started a congregation in the Zvavahera area in 2010, they saw firsthand the stark poverty of the people and how families were being ravaged by AIDS. Mutingwende petitioned Baptist Global Response for assistance and, with resources provided by the World Hunger Fund, a six-month campaign was launched in January 2011.
Of 229 patients registered at the Zvavahera clinic, 125 were identified as especially needing food support to make their HIV medications be more effective. Ten volunteers visited families to deliver food packets that included, among other things, dried meat and fish, rice, peanut butter, mealie meal and beans.
"Once they saw the assistance and improved health of those being assisted, others were encouraged to come out in the open about their [HIV] status," Mutingwende said. Another 121 people registered for treatment at the clinic, and the next six-month campaign was expanded to feed 350 people, at a monthly cost of less than $30 per person.
"The feeding program has become the talk of the area. It has also become a unifying factor in a land polarized by many problems," Mutingwende said. "Food is distributed by the church with a message of hope and salvation in a very non-partisan manner. Most beneficiaries are clearly showing signs of improved health and recording gains in their weight.
"We can testify that the program has been changing lives. Hope is renewed and it is evident many people have been given a new lease on life," Mutingwende added. "Some people who were not expected to live this long have survived and even gained weight. Since the beginning of the fourth phase of the feeding program in May 2012, none of our beneficiaries have died."
In six communities, totaling 1,500 residents, 660 people received health care and 70 were trained in agriculture, health care, community development and job skills. Of the 2,400 people who heard about God's love for them, 120 made decisions to follow Jesus.
Realizing the need to move recipients toward self-sufficiency, Mutingwende and BGR area director Mark Hatfield developed a self-help strategy for participating families.
"Our humanitarian projects always look for ways to help people move from dependency to self-support," Hatfield said. "For Zvavahera, we are in the process of designing projects in the areas of greenhouse vegetable gardening, goat rearing, and producing lotions, candles, and soaps. A local [organization], the Kunzwana Women's Cooperative, has been contracted by the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe to consult and assist in training in several of these areas. Church members set about molding the 27,000 mud bricks that would be needed for buildings that would house the projects."
The food packs went a long way in averting hunger and providing much-needed nutrition to those who could not afford to buy it for themselves, Mutingwende added.
"Given the drought in the province, the food packs continue to provide great relief to people who would otherwise starve," Mutingwende said. "Sadly we have lost some people whose conditions were critical, some of them young children, but the majority of those receiving this support greatly improved over the feeding project -- gaining weight and many feeling strong enough to return to school and work.
"It is our strong conviction that establishing the self-help projects will help make the efforts and finances invested thus far have a lasting impact on the beneficiaries and the community," Mutingwende added. "The ultimate objective of the project is to show the community the love of Jesus Christ by ministering to their physical and spiritual needs and establishing the community in Christ."
Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, which is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org. Learn more about the World Hunger Fund at www.worldhungerfund.com.