And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
For the past two weeks we have been visiting community-based organizations (CBO) throughout the Inhambane province of Mozambique. We have taken extremely long trips—some up to four hours away—to sit down with the leadership and members of each association to get from them a firsthand encounter of their successes, concerns and the challenges that they are facing. For the past two weeks this scripture has been with me as we visited each CBO. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a passion for those who are afflicted with disease—any disease—and my passion is working with those who face the daily battle of HIV/AIDS. Now as I think back, I can remember the day the announcement about this internship was posted in our in-boxes, and the warm feeling that overtook me; I knew this internship was for me! It was like my name was written all over it, beckoning me to submit my application. So now I’m here and I am learning so much from these courageous men and powerful women. I would like to take the time to describe just a little about each organization, but first I must tell you that once we arrived at each organization we are greeted with smiles, singing and dancing. “Bom dia” (good morning) can be heard all across the yard as we are kissed on each cheek before taking our seats.
First stop: Tsinela, which means “moving forward.” Located in Massinga, Mozambique, Tsinela was the first CBO we visited, and one of the most interesting. The bulk of our discussion was around a recent election that had occurred within the association. The president was demoted to vice-president after she and others were found guilty of stealing large amounts of money from the association. After being asked why they would vote her in as vice-president, the people at Tsinela made it clear to us that their name isn’t by happenstance. It was echoed throughout the meeting from each person how they felt that each member is significant and they still wanted the old president to be a part of the association, regardless of what she did. Talk about grace. I learned so much from Tsinela concerning grace that I left this meeting with high expectations about meeting with the other associations.
Kuvuneka means “if you help, then you help everyone.” Located in Morrumbene, Mozambique, Kuvuneka was the second CBO we visited, and I must say it is one of my favorite CBOs. Several things make this CBO outstanding, such as their recent purchase of eight ambulance bicycles and the construction of a new office space without financial assistance from any of their donors. However, as awesome as that is, the characteristic that stood out to me the most about this organization was one of their songs they sang for us at the end of our meeting that I have entitled “Our work.” These men and women sang “Our work is not in here, but it is where we live, so we must leave here to go do our work.” I must admit to you that I was standing in tears as these selfless, compassionate people stood singing from their hearts. Anyone listening to them singing could tell that they were serious and sincere about the work they were doing. It was one of those moments that will be with me forever.
Acomuza was a very interesting organization because it’s the oldest of the nine CBOs we’re working with. This association is very established and is made up of a powerful group of people. The most interesting characteristic of this organization was how they got men to participate in their organization. All of the CBOs were in some way attempting to have an income generation component within their organization. However, what makes this organization different is the way in which they involve a group of people that are nearly absent in the other CBOs: the men. Here in Acomuza, the women decided to get men involved by creating income generation projects that men would be more prone to get involved with, such as furniture making instead of cloth making. And I must commend them because it is work!!
Kulhaissa – This CBO is very unique because until we went to Acomuza we did not find many men who participated in any association. However, today we met with members of an association where the majority of the leadership team was men! This completely shocked me, because the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS is still very rampant in Mozambique, although the statistics show a very high percentage of the population is living with this disease. Men are missing from the picture in many of the associations. I was very proud of these men in this association because of the courage to go against any “cultural norms” regarding this disease. Not only did these men accept the leadership responsibility, they also are working extremely hard with traditional healers. They encourage the traditional healers to refer their clients to the hospital after receiving any type of service. The association says that this working relationship has been very significant to the work that the association is doing and they have seen positive results.
Ajudeco means “an association of community development.” This association began from the work of a couple who wanted to make a difference in their community. What makes this association so remarkable is their history. This power-packed duo began the association without receiving any money from an outside donor. It began, and they went several years without receiving any incentive money for themselves or the volunteers and activists who worked with them. Located in the interior of Inhambane, this association functions without any electricity because the city is not connected to the main energy network. Generators are used only once a month to produce their monthly reports. This association is the only one of the nine we visited that types their monthly reports and produces them with cover-pages and colored copies. WOW! What a tenacious group of people. It reminds me of the saying my grandmother always says “It’s not what you have, but what you do with what you have!”
I have learned so much from these CBOs; I could just go on, and on, and on talking about how these people forever changed my outlook on life. The latter part of this scripture describes the atmosphere that was present while meeting with these associations. “…And the power of the Lord was present to heal them” denotes what Christ was there to do for those who were in need of healing. Many times we seem to think that healing is only manifested when someone gets a clean bill of health. I would like to expand that definition by including that healing can also come from someone being acknowledged as a person or when someone takes the time just to listen. One could also witness the healing that community brings. To be accepted and to be regarded as significant means so much for humans, and when we go without community, we often times go through life without ever reaching our full potential. And I must say not just any community, because there are many people who live in “communities” while being the constant victims of invisibility, muteness, marginalization and stigmatization. But these were communities that I like to imagine welcomed anyone who wanted to participate, because many of them included both those living with HIV/AIDS and those who were HIV-negative. Both men and women, young and old were all in some way affected by this disease and wanted to do something about it, and for many of the members in these associations these communities were their lifelines.
We had the opportunity of visiting an activist who became ill while assisting others. As we were in his house we sat and talked with him about his day as he laid about two inches off the floor in he bed made of nothing more than thatch. He explained to us that he lies in bed for most of the day with little to no activity other than his bath. He began to tell us how much being visited means to him, and how much he knows it means to those he served. I began to ask about his treatment and his medications. How often does he take them, what is the dosage like and how often does he go to the hospital? Without a second thought, the activist showed us his medications as questions raced through my mind. I noticed that there were empty water bottles around him and one bottle with about half a glass remaining, I asked the activist what he takes his medications with. He explained to us that because the pump is broken and the town doesn’t have electricity, his uncle or ant has to walk about 13 kilometers to the well, where each family is only allowed one bucket/container of water. It was even more surprising when he told us that there were nine people living with him. Nine people and one container of water, I was in total awe! As we left the activist’s house our supervisor began to describe to us how much he knows that visit meant to him and how that will help him to recover. He also explained to us how having his little cousins running around brings healing to him as well. In the settings of communities, families, and friends, the power of the Lord is there to heal, and I believe it did and is continuously healing…