My name is Jane Gondwe, I will be 37 this June and have one child and another five relatives. I went to V.C.T early 2001 and was tested as HIV positive, with my husband who unfortunately died in 2004.
Things started getting tough for me after his death and I had to move from the work house to an unfinished house he just bought. Towards the end of 2005, I got sick which lead to losing my job, I was a teacher in a private school. I knew that even if I became better she would still fire me, because there was discrimination towards all those suffering from AIDS.
I stayed at home without anything to do and was admitted frequently into hospital. I was desperate and was waiting to die.
My neighbor who happens to be a DREAM client was concerned with my sickness and advised me to go with him to the DREAM centre. It was the first time I heard about DREAM. When we arrived, I realized that there was still hope for me. I still remember the warm welcome I received from all the workers at DREAM.
This is why I decided to volunteer to be one of the activists in Malawi. I discovered the importance of being involved with the patients and that it helps achieve good results from the treatment and it gives hope to those who think AIDS is a death sentence.
I have found my dignity and now understand the value of life. I have regained my energy and have started looking after my family again. The most important part of my experience has been the friendship with my fellow patients, the medicines alone are not enough. Every patient who comes to the centre finds a friend, I might even say that the patients feel as if they have relatives at our centre. And this is the strength we must never lose, we always have to hold on to friendship and although it certainly cannot substitute the medicines, it is essential for successful therapy. The patient needs to talk and words are important but he also needs to be listened to. A relationship of respect, availability and friendship is established with the patient. And thanks to both the professional service and the warmth they have received, many patients have overcome their resignation and adhered to the therapy.
Above all, what I have to stress is the vital importance of the role of the activists, who are the eyes and ears of the centre, but also the legs and the hands of our patients. They are the best at recognizing problems and accepting the requests of those who turn to our hospital, because they keep close contacts with the patients. If at some point that contact is disrupted, activists find ways to re-establish it, going to search for those who no longer come to the centre or visiting those who are experiencing concrete difficulties.
Health education through one of our books [How is your health] has been of great help to the activists, as they are the ones who give all the health talks at our centre and in the villages and towns. They serve the patient while they are teaching them something, when they enable them to learn more about their own health and the medicines they are taking and the appointments they should keep. In reality, health education is one of the things that truly changes the lives of people. The patients are welcomed into the DREAM program by the activists. By conducting health education, we have discovered we can win the interest, respect and affection of many patients.
Who am I today? First, I have to give my gratitude to the Community of Sant’Egidio for implementing the DREAM program in some parts of Africa. I am proud to be the first activist in Malawi where this disease goes together with stigma and discrimination and to be able to make my contribution to all the HIV-positive people of the Malawi DREAM Centre.
I am a woman who has many responsibilities. I have learned many things about the DREAM program, HIV and human nutrition through the DREAM pan-African courses and am now competent enough and help others. I work as coordinator/counselor and make sure the work of the centre and all of the activists is going on well.
I collaborate in administering the therapy to those who are not adhering to the program and offer counseling to mothers to prevent malnutrition. I ask the women who are in treatment and who have given birth to healthy babies to bring their babies to the centre quite often. We weigh them and give them check ups up to the age of 18 months. We ensure that they are growing well and are not underweight, because in Africa children often die before they are one year old because they don’t eat enough and are weak and are more likely to be infected with malaria, respiratory infection and diarrhea and these conditions can rapidly lead to death.
Together with my fellow activists we have founded the ‘Movement I DREAM’ which is made up of people who are seropositive and seronegative. We help the people who come to the DREAM centre for treatment. Together with the other activists of the association, we have created a network which serves many people, and many children through home care visits.
Our work is certainly not restricted to the DREAM centre: we have become the social fabric of our neighborhoods and villages. We are the people who know about the treatment opportunities available to counter the epidemic. We go to inform and make people aware, but also to support and encourage sick people who have already approached antiretroviral therapy We offer the human and psychological support necessary for adherence to drug prescriptions.
Moreover, many women who had been wounded by exclusion and stigma discovered that “Movement I DREAM” was the fundamental path towards re-immersion into life, as well as means to recover economically and to restore culture and dignity. They return to work with new meaning and strength and are able to help others. They become active in the transmission of awareness and of good practices, of the revolution in mentality.
Today, with the expansion and consolidation of DREAM in several African countries, the role has gradually become increasingly public. We have been invited to participate in television and radio debates and have been interviewed by leading national papers. We have been asked to give lectures or to share testimonies with audiences. Our campaigners underline the enormous capacity for change which always arouses a revival of hope.
Listening to these people speak with strength, conviction and competence has led many men and women with only minimal educational qualifications to finally become aware of the problem that thus far had been kept in a dark corner.
I am so happy for this year’s title “Africa without AIDS is it only a DREAM?” my answer is, ‘No, it is not a DREAM’. DREAM is a model of how to treat AIDS in Africa. Sick people have expressed their need, their desire for a restored future to shine. A fullness of life can be reached. Despite present vulnerability and difficulties people have the impression that there are great potential resources: commitment, involvement, hope and endeavor not only for themselves, but for all people who have been robbed of time and life.
Today thanks to some non-governmental pioneers, including Community of Sant’Egidio and the now undeniable evidence of the value of an AIDS approach, individuals have changed their mentality as well as in society as a whole. The African governments were quite concerned that this enormous commitment of these programs to treat AIDS would require a lot of money, both in terms of human resources and the heavy costs, as was actually the case in Western countries. It was considered impossible to finance the treatments and it was feared the health alarm set off amongst the general public would have provoked unsustainable pressure on the governments.
It was thought that the antiretroviral drugs were dangerous for one’s health and that garlic provided an effective remedy against HIV infection. The pandemic spread, and grew more serious as African authorities decided to deal with the disease only through prevention.
Even the best African governments have been afraid of taking the lid off the AIDS can, fearing panic. AIDS was the threat hanging over the people and it was thought that there was no remedy for those affected by it. Society refuses sick people as they are seen as danger, as a result people were simply afraid to take the tests.
My thanks goes to the Community of Sant’Egidio, which is deeply rooted in African countries. It started by observing and then preparing a project to prevent and treat AIDS beginning with Mozambique. The aim is to provide treatment together with prevention.
Another problem is that Africa is rich in human resources but they receive poor professional training. They do not have the knowledge or tools to implement health programs. Many doctors and health care workers in Europe are prepared to carry out voluntary working in order to help the thousands of people who live in poor conditions.
It is important that the project is started with human resources provided by Europe but it is essential that knowledge and skills are transferred to African doctors, technicians, day hospital managers and local people, so that Africa can walk on its own two feet in the immediate future. Yes Africa without AIDS is not only a DREAM but a reality!
I am very happy to be here in Germany and will continue to help my country so that one day it may be like this. I feel God has a purpose and loved my life a lot and he is asking me to help the world.