Friday, March 18, 2011

TGIF

As many of you know, dear ones, i spent nearly a month last summer in East Africa with The Nyanya Project, and much of my heart remains there with the wonderful people i met in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda...people whose lives have been impacted by HIV/AIDS in ways we here in the U.S. cannot even imagine. In our country, AIDS has virtually become a chronic disease, with ready access to ARVs (though they still tend to be expensive, but that's another story...), but in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS has been having an impact which will be felt for generations.

I know the eyes of most of us glaze over when we are presented with statistics, but i invite you to put these numbers into some perspective.
We have all been captivated and horrified by the recent events in Japan. News stories tell us nearly 6500 are confirmed dead, with more than 10,000 missing- and that may be a conservative estimate. I simply cannot imagine having to face the devastation and rebuilding that will need to be done in the coming months, years. And we here in the United States remember vividly Sept. 11, 2001 when more than 4000 of our citizens were killed in the terrorist attacks on our soil,
both of these events devastating, and forever etched upon the minds and hearts of the people who experienced them.

But imagine, if you can, 6000 people dying EVERY DAY of a treatable, preventable disease. This is what HIV/AIDS is doing in sub-Saharan Africa. This is nearly twice the toll of 9/11 and almost as much as the present death toll in Japan...but it is happening EVERY DAY!

Now, lest you think that i am in any way minimizing the devastation, loss, and emotional tribulation of either 9/11 or the earthquake in Japan, be assured i am not. The people of Japan have been in my thoughts and prayers ever since the quake and tsunami happened. But my heart remains with the grandmothers i have met, caring for their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren...women who have lost 1 or 2 or 3 or more children to the disease...women who have worked all of their lives and now, in old age, instead of being cared for, have taken over the role of "parent", "caretaker", "support" for their grandchildren, often having as many as 7 or 8 of them of varying ages in their small homes. And lest you think this is an insignificant problem, here are some more statistics:
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS orphans account for 10-12% of ALL children.
  • Of the 16 million AIDS orphans worldwide, 14.8 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • And the reality is, if it were not for AIDS, most of these children would not have been orphaned.
So, even as you remember the people of Japan, lifting them up and giving whatever emotional and financial support you can, remember the quieter catastrophe which continues to happen on a continent few of us ever visit, about which few of us think, about which far too few of us really care. Remember, if you will, women named Eunice and Beatrice and Devota and Martha and Mary and Emmanuela whose every day is filled with the difficult reality of leaving their heavy grief behind in order to feed, clothe, house their grandchildren...women whose greatest hope is to keep those grandchildren in school so that a better life might be in store for them. And in the midst of all this, if you have food on your table, a roof over your head, a comfortable bed in which to sleep, clothing to wear, and a bit of money in your pocket, don't forget to consider yourself among the wealthy of the world...don't forget to give thanks...and don't forget to remember. 

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