Monday, December 14, 2009

Lunch With Sex Workers

On Saturday, November 14, accompanied by my two colleagues Megan Bradfield and Phil baker, I visited the HIV/AIDS project implemented by HKBP - the largest Lutheran Church in Asia. Our first stop was to visit a Don Bosco school and then to a local prison where they work among the people who have been imprisoned for various crimes including drug abuse and sex offenses. We were very impressed with both of these visits.

As we came out of the prison, Megan asked me what was next. I replied “lunch with sex workers”. Megan started laughing so loud that I wondered why she was laughing. Phil was curious too. I asked Megan why she was laughing, and she replied “Because you said “lunch with sex workers.” I said this was true and our next program is to have lunch with sex workers and drug abusers in a restaurant. Megan said “it was not because of what you said; I was laughing because the way you said it”.

We were met by about a dozen men and women in the restaurant who came at the invitation of the HIV/AIDS staff. This was an incentive for them to come to talk to us. After lunch we went back to the project office to have a conversation with these people. To me, (and probably to my colleagues) this was the most emotional part of the visit. All of these men and women described their stories openly and were seeking help.

A man described that he was HIV positive and his wife was not only HIV positive, but she also had tuberculosis. They have four minor children; two of them were also HIV positive. He was in tears when he described that his wife was unable to work because of her poor health and that the entire family was dependent on his income alone. He told us how hard he works for a small income driving a mini cab as he pays major portion of his earnings to the owner of the mini cab. He told us that he is grateful for the treatment and care he receives from the HIV/AIDS project but asked if there was anything else we could do to help him to come out of this misery.

A newly married couple told their story about how they realized that the husband was HIV positive immediately after their marriage. They do not want to have any children at this point. The wife told us that she is trying to support her husband and praying for his healing.

Two young women involved in sex trade told us about their painful stories. One of them was HIV positive. They told us the stories of how poverty and hunger brought them to this trade, and how they don’t like what they do but they do not have any other alternatives.

We left the meeting with much sadness as we could not give these people any immediate answer or hope for their future.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, with the abundance we enjoy in our lives, let us not forget the true meaning of the celebration – the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to this world, walked amongst the sick and the trodden, and died on the cross for us all. No matter what the politics of the Church, or differences we have among us, one issue remains a constant – there are many out there who need our help and our prayers. I pray that we all make a commitment for the upcoming New Year that we will come together as one and serve those who the world sees as “one of these leasts.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

My House Guests

This is long over due. I did not have time to write about my friends who looked after my house in Chennai while I was in the USA and gone for a month from Chennai. I was away from the end of June to the end of July to renew my Indian Visa, and spend some time with my family. To be precise, I returned to Chennai on July 28, and the story of my house guests begin here.

I arrived at Chennai after about 20 hours of travel, including four- hours of waiting at Brussels Airport to get my connection to Chennai. My Jet Air flight arrived Chennai Airport at 23:30 hours and by the time I was cleared through customs and immigration formalities,it was almost 1:00 am. I took a taxi and arrived at home at about 2:00 am on July 29. I was exhausted!

I carried my heavy luggage upstairs to my apartment and unlocked the door. As I entered into my house and switched on the lights, I found about a dozen of Cockroaches running all around to welcome me, the real owner of the house! Before I could bring my luggage inside the house, I decided to respond to the warm welcome. I took a broom from the kitchen and went after my house guests, one by one and managed to kill about a half dozen of them. The rest managed to save their lives by hiding in some corners that I could not find.

It was an interesting experience. Here I was, early in the morning just having arrived from the United States, exhausted, and in a very hot and humid apartment ( Chennai is very hot and the apartment was locked for a month with all the windows shut), and the first thing I do is go on a killing spree!

After my mission was accomplished, I was laughing to myself for what I just did. Running all over the house to kill my house guests who lived here for a month and welcomed me when I returned from an enjoyable and relaxing vacation!

Sorry, I was too tired to take pictures of my dead house guests!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Barkat Found a Home

Barkat Anugerah is a five-year-old boy who was born with HIV/AIDS. Barkat in Indonesian language means “Blessings,” and Anugerah means “Grace”. Both his father and mother died of AIDS two years apart.

His parents were separated for several years, and one (or both) of them contracted HIV/AIDS while they were separated. After two years of separation, they decided to make peace and live together again. About a year after their reunion, Barkat was born. The parents rightly named him Blessings and Grace as he was born since the reunion after two years of painful separation of this couple. Obviously, Barkat was born with HIV/AIDS.

After the death of his parents, life for Barkat was very uncertain as the people of the community knew that his parents had died of AIDS. Barkat was also very sick from the time he was born. Because of social stigma and lack of knowledge, his relatives were unable to take care of him as they feared that they will have HIV/AIDS if they care for Barkat in their home. The relatives were threatened to be driven away from the community if they had kept Barkat in their house. One of Barkat’s aunts was isolated in a one room house because she took care of him for few days after his parents’ death. Even his 55 year old grandmother refused to take care of him as she feared having AIDS virus and thrown out of the village.

One of the distant relatives contacted a local doctor to find out what could be done for Barkat as they were not really sure what was wrong with him as no one actually did an HIV/AIDS test. As Barkat was a member of a Lutheran church of HKBP, the doctor suggested that he should be taken to ELCA Global Mission supported HIV/AIDS committee office in Balige for a test. However, for some unknown reason, Barkat was sent to a hospital in Medan, the largest city in north Sumatra district, instead. The doctors tested him to find HIV positive. By this time his condition had become worse. He became very sick and skinny and seemed to not have any chance of survival.

As Barkat’s situation was brought to the attention of the local media by the authorities, a local journalist visited the hospital and published an article about the story of Barkat’s journey to the hospital and asked for help from the community and social welfare institution.

A local member of HKBP church who knew about the program called the staff of HIV/AIDS committee and informed them about this situation after reading the article in the newspaper. As soon as the coordinator of the program learnt about this situation, she took immediate action and sent two staff members to Medan Hospital to be with Barkat. They stayed in the hospital and took care of Barkat for several weeks till he was out of danger and was able to move around.

In the meantime, HIV/AIDS committee decided to take full custody of Barkat. They worked with the social welfare department to make necessary arrangements for them to have the paperwork done. They also started a foundation in the name of Barkat so that people could contribute towards his medical care and future education.

Barkat is now living in Balige with HIV/AIDS staff. Four of them keep Barkat in their home for one week each and they plan to continue this process till Barkat can go to an orphanage managed by HKBP in a nearby town. Barkat has three other siblings who are in the same orphanage.

When I visited the HIV/AIDS committee office in Balige, I met Barkat. He was very charming, smiling and lively young boy who always wanted love and attention. When I sat on the mat he jumped onto my lap and gave me a big smile.

There is HOPE for Barkat. As the HKBP program gets full custody, they plan to take care of him till he gets a good college education and stands on his own feet. His host families have big dreams. Some say Barkat will be doctor specializing on HIV/AIDS.

I am grateful that Barkat found a home. I am glad that due to our partnership with HIV/AIDS Committee of HKBP, it was possible for Barkat to survive and look forward to a life with many possibilities. I pray that the dreams of those who are engaged in taking care of Barkat will come true.