Fall 2021 newsletter
Joanne Miya, Tanzania
Greetings from Uzima Centre.
I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones in good health. As the pandemic continues to keep us vigilant, there is some hope for Tanzania in that vaccines, donated by the United States, are now available. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine education campaign, so few people have been vaccinated. Several local doctors have died, which is a huge loss in a country with only one doctor per 25,000 people. The impact of this pandemic is impossible to measure. Let us pray for all who are mourning, that they might find peace.
During these difficult times, we are especially proud of the mothers and grandmothers who care for children living with HIV. Jesca was unaware of her HIV status when she gave birth to her first child eight years ago. After she began showing symptoms, test results confirmed that she was HIV-positive. The clinic advised her to get her daughter, Elizabeti, tested as well. It was then she learned that her daughter had been infected at birth.
They both began antiretroviral therapy and were referred to Uzima Centre. Clinics can provide testing and medication, but what they can’t provide is accompaniment. Through our Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Program, women learn how to improve their overall health. They learn the importance of giving birth at a designated hospital.
The accompaniment and education Jesca received at Uzima Centre made it possible for her second daughter, Justina, to be born without HIV. Elizabeti, now in first grade, is part of our Upendo Group for HIV-positive children. Jesca continues to attend support group meetings for adults living with HIV and little Justina is doing great.
Pictured sitting with Jesca is Agnes, who is raising her granddaughter, also named Agnes. When children lose their parents, it is often a grandmother who assumes responsibility for raising them. This is hard enough when the children have no health issues or special needs. But, taking care of an HIV-positive child involves supervising their daily medicine, as well as monthly doctor appointments. Tanzania has no welfare system, foster care program or food stamps to assist these grandmothers. They depend on relatives, friends and the grace of God to make ends meet.
Uzima Centre tries to lighten the burden. We provide beans, high protein flour and soap each month. We also help with medical bills and school expenses. Little Agnes was 4 years old when her grandmother registered her with Uzima Centre. Thanks to the loving care of this grandmother, Agnes is now a happy second-grader. Currently we assist 48 children and 32 teenager who are HIV-positive. Our goal is to enable each of them to reach their fullest potential.
Our first high school graduate, Janona, will soon be starting a three-year course in pharmacology. Having lived his entire life with HIV, Janona has always known that he wanted to someday work as a medical professional. Because his life has been defined by doctor appointments and medication, he understands the importance of good medical care.
Other students decide to learn a trade. For Jamila that was sewing. After completion of a two-year apprenticeship, she now does sewing from her home. When we received an order for 215 masks, Jamila helped us with the sewing. Recently both Janona and Jamila helped work on a king-size patchwork bedcover. Sewing orders like these enabled us to offer Jamila and Janona temporary work. Transitioning from adolescence to adulthood is a sacred journey, and we are privileged to help them through it, each in their own unique way.
As Pope Francis so beautifully said, “We need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey.” The miracle of accompaniment is that it is mutually transformative. Jesca, Grandma Agnes, Janona and Jamila teach us the meaning of determination, hope and hard work. They may not realize it, but they are also accompanying us. We need each other. I pray that you too are blessed by this journey we share.
Thank you for your prayers, your support and for walking with us each step of the way.
Peace and gratitude,