This year, there were a couple of disappointments: KK, the first democratically elected President (who attended the event last year), was unable to attend due to a last minute, out of country meeting conflict. In addition, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health, who is a good friend of our program, also backed out.
So, we started the event about 45 minutes late (there is a time honored tradition that we ALWAYS wait for the guest of honor even if he/she is late and in this case, KK's administrative guy was the one we were waiting for). In spite of those disappointments, I realized that we were really there to honor and appreciate the Caregivers, not our special political speakers!
Two Caregivers - a man and a woman (60% of the caregivers are women, 40 are men) spoke on behalf of the 20,000 Caregivers...In their first audition - they were so-so, but on the day of the event, they were FANTASTIC!!! (My photos are NOT fantastic, so sorry they're a bit blurry, my little point and shoot can only carry me so far).
Monica Hangoma had a sister who was HIV positive, who eventually passed away. When Monica went to visit her in the hospital, there was a caregiver who came to take care of her - and Monica wondered why this caregiver would take care of someone she didn't even know! In addition, there were issues of stigma and discrimination - Monica was revolted by the people who had AIDS and would even throw up just looking at them.
She's come a long way since then and now she is caring for people who can barely stand because of their illness...and is strongly advocating for people to get tested and if they are found to be positive, to join a support group to help dimish the stigma against AIDS.
Jackson Zongwe has an amazing story. He's been a caregiver for a while - and has taken a lot of the trainings we provide, even the one that said not to drink alcohol (since he's taking anti-retroviral medications). He had been in the habit of drinking - and engaging in "risky behavior" when one of his clients saw him and asked him why he was drinking. He suddenly realized that he's telling his clients not to drink - and here he was out drinking... He was ashamed enough to change his lifestyle right then.
The training he received as a caregiver saved his life -- he has stopped the drinking and the risky behaviour and, says that his marriage was saved. He is now healthy and a great caregiver.
God uses all kinds of people in this world to help one another...." and the second command is like it: love your neighbors as yourself"...these caregivers are living that out every day!
It is a blessing to know these wonderful, gifted people who serve out the kindness of their hearts to those affected and infected by HIV and AIDS.