Global AIDS Fund Provides Help, Comfort
by Linda Bloom*
August 16, 2010—An AIDS orphan in Kenya, Purity had few prospects for the future.
At the age of 14, she had become the caregiver for a younger brother and sister and a mentally disabled older brother. They had a piece of family land, but no food.
Purity became involved in a United Methodist-supported project that linked her with a group of 12 families in her community. The Champion Working Group, as it is known, helped her plant grass — feed for the family cow — and cultivate greens to sell for profit, sharing the income.
The next year, Purity added maize, carrots and potatoes to her crops. Soon, she had two goats, two cows and enough produce to feed her family and put money in the bank.
Zoe Ministry, which runs the Giving Hope Empowerment Project, is one of the grant recipients of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
Launched in 2004 by the Rev. Greg Jenks, with support from the United Methodist North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference, Zoe Ministry is working in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Rwanda to empower AIDS orphans and child-led families to become self-sufficient.
Kids like Purity can thrive, not just survive, Jenks said.
Assisting Vulnerable Children
Many of the applications to the Global AIDS Fund relate to projects dealing with AIDS orphans and vulnerable children, said Bridget Hayes, who manages the grants for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
“A lot of these children are leading households,” Hayes explained. “We do a lot of funding to help them stay in school.”
Established by the 2004 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, and affirmed in 2008, the global fund is part of The Advance, the voluntary giving program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
The Rev. Donald Messer, chairperson of the Global AIDS Fund Committee, believes the opportunities the fund presents has helped church members move from condemnation to compassion when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
“It’s difficult to get the church engaged on HIV and AIDS across the board,” he said. “Every dollar received, I think, represents a conversion experience.”
Linda Bales Todd, another committee member, said the fund is one of the best ways for church members to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic because 100 percent of donations go toward project grants. “It really is doing amazing work in funding projects that with very little money…can make a difference,” she said.
From 2005 to 2008, grants were awarded to 109 projects in 30 countries. In 2009 alone, the Global AIDS Fund surpassed that total, providing $527,165 worth of grants to 155 projects in 33 countries. But more donations to the fund are needed to sustain that work.
Programs in Africa
Because of a staff visit there last year, many recent applications have come from Kenya. The Global AIDS Fund also supports numerous programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Senegal as well as India.
The fund committee currently is making an intentional effort to get applications from Haiti. “I’ve helped to identify a few clinics and a hospital that I think we can encourage to apply,” Hayes said.
One of the biggest grants for 2010, Hayes said, is $16,975 to the denomination’s North Katanga Annual (regional) Conference in Congo, which includes integrated funds for HIV, malaria and primary health care. Another unique project in that country involves the building of a clinic in Kamina, along with funds for its operations, for a total of $35,000.
Phil DiSorbo, another grant recipient, also deals with AIDS orphans, but in a different context. His organization, the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa, has worked with The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe since 2006 to integrate hospice and palliative-care service within its health-care system.
The goal is to offer adequate medicine for pain management to people dying from the complications of HIV/AIDS and bereavement care for their spouses and children. The foundation provides training for medical personnel, including doctors and nurses, and volunteers who go out into the communities.
When DiSorbo met with 50 people at United Methodist-related Mutambara Hospital and asked what the staff most needed to take care of HIV/AIDs patients, the answer was unanimous: pain and symptom management.
”They really had no tools to relieve pain,” he recalled. “That was at the top of everybody’s list.”
He found the problem to be even more extreme in Nigeria, where the foundation has identified a second United Methodist project site. The hospital pharmacy had not even ordered any morphine for pain management.
The experience showed him the need to first train doctors to be comfortable about ordering such drugs and then negotiate with the hospitals and governments over who will pay for the supply. “We want to get all pain and management drugs available to the patients who need it,” he said.
Besides securing medicines and providing training, the foundation is providing incentives, such as bicycles, to the caregivers; linking hospitals and clinics with U.S. hospice partners; procuring grants from charitable foundations; and developing a bereavement program for children and youth.
DiSorbo expects the focus of the palliative-care program will expand to include those suffering from other terminal illnesses. “There’s less stigma if you’re serving everybody,” he noted.
Serving the Community
Serving the community also has been the focus of the Zoe Ministry programs in Rwanda and Kenya.
Zoe, whose name means “life,” tries to address HIV/AIDS on a number of levels. “Poverty is such a determining factor in the whole pandemic,” Jenks said. “If we can get these kids producing their own food and making their own money, we can eliminate the need for them to go out and sell their bodies.”
Since 2007, the organization has worked with 10,000 young people in Kenya and Rwanda. “We can do so much more in Kenya right now,” he added. “We’ve reached 4,000, but there are 26,000 in that district we haven’t reached yet.”
“It’s an African solution,” Jenks said. “It was designed, refined and implemented by Africans. The key part of it is we get these kids off of dependency and relief so they’re providing for themselves.”
Like others, Purity has remained involved with her group, which also has created the Champion Anti-AIDS Club to educate people about the dangers of HIV. “These kids become ambassadors for Christ,” he explained. “We see orphans adopting other orphans, feeding other orphans and really emerging as missionaries in their own community.”
Today, in her own context, Purity is wealthy, Jenks said. “We invested no more than $200 in her life. She is completely self-reliant.”
How to Help
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.