Valiant Vero - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Lent 2023 newsletter


Joanne Miya, Tanzania

Valiant Vero

Greetings from Uzima Centre.

It seems as if the year has just begun, and already we’re in the middle of Lent. Where to begin? We hired a new program coordinator last October, and she is amazing. Getrude has a wealth of experience working with high-risk youth. She is now being assisted by Jumbe, a social worker, and James, a volunteer.

We started the year by doing assessments of all 152 children. We learned a lot about what the children are dealing with. Over 75% reported being hit or beaten by their guardian at least once a week. Currently 96% of our children come from female-headed households, which are limited by a single, often unreliable, income.

James and Jumbe preparing for home visits

Care for children living with HIV creates additional stress. Forty percent of our HIV-positive children expressed that they do not want to stay with their current guardian. Their reasons varied, but this is a significant number who have an unhappy home life.

One of Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ core values is “inclusion.” We have challenged ourselves to become a more inclusive organization and to denounce all forms of discrimination. I have been working with people living with HIV for 20 years. Although the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is not what it was when the AIDS pandemic first hit East Africa, it is still a challenge. The stories the children shared during the assessments were heartbreaking.

Grace (all children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy) is being raised by her parents, but there are five other children and tensions are high. It is not uncommon for Grace to return from school and find that there is no food left for her. Grace’s parents treat her differently from her siblings who are HIV-negative. She is often given chores to do until late at night, after the other children have gone to bed. Any failure to complete her chores results in being hit or assigned additional chores. Grace would rather live with her grandmother, but her mother refuses.

Vero is a bright 9-year old girl who lives with her mother and father. It is unusual here for the father to be part of the family and often his presence is not advantageous. Vero is afraid of her father, who becomes violent when he’s been drinking. The mother tolerates his abuse because he provides food for the family. It is a difficult situation.

Tekla, such a strong girl!

Tekla has been HIV-positive since birth. She and her three siblings live with their mother in a nearby village. Tekla must walk over an hour to reach school, so she often arrives late, which results in her being hit by her teacher for tardiness. Her mother often punishes the children by denying them food. Tekla’s cheerful disposition hides the many problems she faces at home.

Our focus has always been to offer hope, health care and education, with an emphasis on the children. It’s become clear that things will not improve for the children until things improve at home.

This year we are taking a more comprehensive approach. In addition to the usual assistance for the children, we will be offering classes for the guardians. These will include topics such as stress management, nonviolent forms of discipline, children’s rights and how to manage a household budget to better meet the needs of the family.

Changing deeply engrained cultural behaviors will take time, but for the sake of the children we need to try. Please pray that these trainings will bear fruit.

Maybe inclusion is so important because one of our heart’s deepest desires is to belong. We were created to be in communion with others. Loneliness, exclusion, and discrimination cut deep and leave scars.

May we take time during this Lenten season to reflect on how the ways we have responded, or failed to respond, to the needs of others have caused scars that need healing. May we take time to work on the healing of our own scars.

Thank you for joining with us as we strive to bring healing to Grace, Vero, Tekla and their families. Let us hold one another in prayer that we may all come to know that we are beloved children of God, and that we all belong.

Peace, deep breaths and gratitude,
Joanne  / or  /

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Joanne Miya
Joanne Miya joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1983. She is the director of the Uzima Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania, whose mission is to provide hope, healthcare and education to adults and children living with HIV.