I have learned many tricks to keep from crying. But none of them work in this community in Western Lusaka, Africa. On an October day when still jet lagged we meet three Zambians changing Lusaka one heart at a time. Making an impact by ministering to the needs of Zambians in a community that sits on the outskirts of Lusaka. This is a neighbourhood devastated by AIDS and HIV. And this is the story that breaks my heart the most during our stay in Zambia.
It’s our first day here and we have travelled all over Lusaka, Zambia. We started the day early and went from appointment to appointment, to learning lunch and then to UNICEF and more. Shortly after 3 we are all heading to the outskirts of Lusaka.
Garbage is piled in mounds lining both sides of the road all the way out of town. The smell of burning garbage makes it’s way into the bus we are riding in, even though the windows are closed. There is no sign of a church nearby. Our driver hops out to ask numerous people if they’ve heard of Jubilee Ministries.
To say that this place, this church, is off the beaten track, is the biggest sort of understatement. Jubilee Ministries church is down an unpaved road so narrow that our vehicle barely gets through. People line the side of the road in the western Lusaka neighbourhood. We drive through a market on the way and see people getting haircuts too in a barber shop built of recycled materials and plastic tarp. Many sit to the side of the road selling big piles of coal for home use.
The air is smoky and it’s hard to inhale, but after numerous left turns and right turns and a phone call to the church, we finally come up beside the minister we are hoping to find. This is a stark contrast to the Lusaka we saw during the day. The centre of the city, where we were earlier today, has some moderate infrastructure. At least enough to handle the government offices and the NGOs that cluster there, making central Lusaka a hub of business activity for Zambia.
We sit in a small room off site and the trio talk about the ways the church here had to change to meet the needs of the community. At first it was a church doing important work building membership and faith and then they saw that HIV and AIDS was devastating the membership.
“We used to use our church for prayer,” says Wasifaru, a community outreach pastor. “But because of the HIV and AIDS issue we lost a lot of lives.”
“We used to think it was not our issue. Jubilee Centre helped give us faith to sensitize us to what HIV is. We asked for guidance and then we understood HIV was also our issue.”
Jubilee then also found their members had a great deal of food problems. When the father of a family passed away from AIDS, the wife had no income or job and the children would be unable to go to school. Food becomes impossible to buy. So Jubilee now provides food supplements to help.
Malaria is also still a huge issue in Lusaka. Jubilee Ministries helps provide mosquito nets for families.
All of that is important and impressive and yet none of it compares even slightly to the care given daily to people here suffering from AIDS. The AIDS and HIV positive status of people in this community is still very high. Some progress had been made but it is slow coming.
Wasifaru leads us to the cement home of a family he tends to often. There are eight people living here in this space, a family of eight, and six of them diagnosed HIV positive. Sometimes progress is so small it is hard to see. The youngest two children in the family are not HIV positive. They are well. They are healthy.
We crowded inside the tiny cement home and listened to the grandfather speak of his pain. Pain so awful that he begged to be taken to the doctor to ask to have his eyes removed. Wasifaru took him to the hospital at his request and the doctors told him there was little they could do. So he visits daily and prays and listens to what’s in this man’s heart and on his mind.
I have learned many tricks to keep from crying. But standing inside the home of this man, flanked by his pastor Wasifaru from Jubilee Ministries I realize none of them work in Africa. And I remembered too that sometimes it is okay to cry when you are broken in pieces by a story.
Sometimes hope and progress seem small, but stories of good people doing powerful things can be found everywhere. Here hope is the three in the picture, plus the two youngest grandchildren of the man who are not HIV positive. Now Babies born to women with HIV receive HIV medicines after birth and that sometimes is enough to give a child a chance. Many clinics carry HIV tests.
Shot@Life campaign is an initiative of the UN Foundation and aims to ensure that children around the world have access to life saving vaccines. Shot@Life supports many partners like UNICEF and USAID on the ground in communities like Lusaka, Zambia where amazing groups like Jubilee Ministries give people hope, compassion, and support with complex health issues.
You can help support Shot@Life by becoming a champion and advocating for better access to childhood vaccines.
I travelled to Zambia as a guest as a result of the fellowship I received from Shot@Life and the UN Foundation recently.