Stepping Up to HIV/AIDS
By Judith Santiago*
November 04, 2008—The global epidemic of HIV/AIDS has robbed millions of people of their lives, their husbands, wives, daughters and sons. Stigma, ignorance and fear associated with HIV/AIDS have contributed to 25 million deaths worldwide. Desert Southwest Annual Conference's AIDS Task Force in Arizona is one United Methodist ministry making strides to combat this problem. It's working through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund which supports education, prevention, care, and treatment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS in the US and abroad.
When the UM Global AIDS Fund put out an appeal to raise $8 million dollars toward the fight against HIV/AIDS at the 2004 General Conference, it inspired the Desert Southwest's AIDS Task Force to answer the call. The Taskforce resurrected the commitment of its existing 15-year ministry by stepping-up its mission and strengthening its AIDS-related goals.
During the 15 years, the Taskforce supported annual camp retreats for people with the HIV/AIDS virus and their caretakers. The retreats—Strength for the Journey—offer participants a spiritual respite from the world where they can connect with God and find peace and spiritual healing in a loving, supportive environment.
In 2006, the AIDS Taskforce, refocused its mission to do more than just support Strength For The Journey camps—they decided to do more as a church by confronting the HIV/AIDS issue through education.
"Over the years, the HIV/AIDS issue has been one of my passions," said the Rev. Mary Bullis, Desert Southwest Conference AIDS Task Force chairperson. "It's a preventable disease. It bothers me so much. We, as a church have fallen behind in doing our part to educate. We need to step up."
And step up they did. The Taskforce committed to raise $44,000, representing one dollar for each of its members in support of the UM Global AIDS Fund, as well as to help coordinate AIDS ministries in the conference. As of September, the Taskforce has raised more than $30,000 toward its $44,000 goal—placing 75 percent of raised funds toward grants to help other AIDS ministries and 25 percent to support Strength for the Journey camps.
AIDS Curriculum Developed
Knowing that educational resources on HIV/AIDS were lacking in congregations, the Taskforce began working on an AIDS educational manual. They partnered with the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, a network of interfaith volunteer care-giving programs for HIV/AIDS individuals in Pima County, Ariz., and adopted its already existing AIDS curriculum. They made slight modifications and customized the curriculum to address age-appropriate issues and specific audiences. The Desert Southwest Conference provided Taskforce members with 'speaker trainings' where they learned how to deliver and execute the curriculum to various audiences. So far, UM churches, high school classrooms, the college ministry of the University of Arizona and local United Methodist Women groups have received the educational workshops.
In August, the Taskforce awarded First United Methodist Church of Tucson a grant to produce HIV/AIDS education materials to educate Swahili language speakers in Eastern Africa about AIDS. Because of the low literacy rate among East Africans, a text version of the curriculum would be of little use. So, the curriculum was tailored to an audio version and recorded on a CD. A Tucson recording studio, Labrecque Creative Sound, graciously offered to do the recording and editing gratis.
Natalie Brown, a member of First United Methodist Church and the AIDS Taskforce, helped execute the grant by sending dozens of CDs, CD players and batteries to groups in Kenya, as well as Women Fighting Against AIDS in Arusha, Tanzania. In addition, curriculum materials in both English and Swahili were shipped to many organizations in Eastern Africa as well as US-based groups who work there—making the HIV/AIDS information accessible to all.
This fall, Brown will be sharing the HIV/AIDS curriculum with primary and secondary schools in Tanzania to help strengthen and possibly expand their existing HIV/AIDS program. In October, a work team from the Desert Southwest Conference AIDS Taskforce will be going to Hope for the Hopeless, an orphanage in Ethiopia that works with AIDS orphans and provides education and preventative work.
In addition, the curriculum will soon be translated into Spanish to help the AIDS population in Mexico where the stigma is very high. Brown says "A person cannot get a car ride to the clinic once the driver finds out why the person is going there." The Taskforce, in partnership with the Methodist Church of Mexico, hopes to use the AIDS curriculum at an existing medical clinic in Agua Prieta, Mexico and partner with two US medical teams from Desert Southwest Conference that provide general healthcare there.
As Taskforce Chairperson, Bullis is dedicated to reminding people that HIV/AIDS is a global epidemic—yet one that is preventable. She adds, "We, the church should be out there educating and caring for the people and orphans...we should be involved on the local level through support groups and local congregations."
The Desert Southwest Conference AIDS Taskforce is emerging as a leader among United Methodists for stepping up and working to end the global AIDS epidemic.
How You Can HelpStep up and give. World AIDS Day is December 1. Observe this day by supporting the ongoing work of HIV/AIDS ministries by giving to the United Methodists Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345. Your contributions help programs like these continue and helps to stop the spread of this preventable disease through education.
*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications