Most English majors choose to do their theses on a novel or particular reading genre; however, Sarah Moran, a senior at Regis University in Denver, Colorado decided to travel to the African country of Namibia to receive first-hand knowledge of the Catholic Church’s response to AIDS.
Moran had always been interested in the Church’s social justice teachings, which led her to attend the Jesuit-run university. Her interest in these teachings also drew her to helping those infected with HIV. Upon looking into opportunities to serve, Sarah saw that many organizations ministering to HIV patients in African countries do so by supplying condoms. Knowing the Catholic Church’s firm stance against contraception, Moran was curious as to what Catholic organizations did to assist those with AIDS.
She was put in touch with the Namibian organization, Catholic AIDS Action (CAA), and inquired about volunteering for a month to serve and research for her thesis. Once the contact was made, she recalled, setting up the volunteer experience was “surprisingly easy.” Within “a few weeks of the idea,” she had purchased her ticket and was traveling to the country in southern Africa.
Upon arriving in the country’s capital of Windhoek, Moran related to CNA that she was immediately taken care of by those affiliated with CAA. “I loved the organization,” she exclaimed, “I just can’t say enough words about their work.”
CAA was founded in 1998 by Sr. Dr. Raphaela Händler and Dr. Lucy Steinitz as “Namibia’s first church-based response to the country’s HIV /AIDS crisis.” Currently, CAA is one of the largest organizations responding to the pandemic in the country.
Moran explained that CAA has four foci:
1) home-based counseling and care including house visits reminding patients to take antiretroviral treatments, helping with chores and encouragement
2) Youth education and prevention through programs and activities
3) Care and support to children and to the vulnerable
4) Voluntary counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS
Joy in the midst of poverty
During her one month stay in Namibia, Moran volunteered her time in Katatura, a suburb of Windhoek, working in youth education and prevention. “Many of the children had one or both parents who passed away and were living in incredible poverty,” she recalled.
While she described their personal stories as “heartbreaking,” Moran quickly added that though “so much had gone wrong in their lives, they were still filled with joy.”
The joy of the students, despite their poverty, inspired Moran.
She recalled how many children lived in homes with tin siding. One particular young girl, whose parents died from AIDS, lived with her older sister, nieces and nephews in a small hut. With a tarp roof, they all shared one light bulb, one bed, and one stove.
CAA cares for the children by providing them with the uniforms they need to attend school. The center also feeds them, gives them opportunities to sing in the choir, play sports, read, or access to computers. The center also specifically teaches the 300 children who visit it about the dignity of the person.
Attacking the root problems of HIV/AIDS
“Instead of putting a band-aid on the problem, they are trying to fight it at its roots,” Moran said describing the center’s approach to fighting AIDS. While many AIDS programs focus on handing out condoms, CAA reaches out to help those infected by allowing “God’s love to enter.” The center works to “create positive preventative care,” Moran said.
One way it does this is through the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Moran explained that “good treatment is good prevention.” Many times, AIDS is passed from mother to child. “If the needs of the mother are met, by providing clean bottles and formula as well as education, the virus isn’t passed to the child.
The center also focuses on prevention and education through empowering the children to become aware of AIDS and the behavioral changes that are needed to prevent infection. Moran noted that one session discussed relationship skills and gave students the chance to discuss the importance of “abstinence and fidelity in a monogamous relationship.”
Other issues such as communication skills, gender issues and the relationship of alcohol, poverty and AIDS are also discussed. The children are also educated to make positive choices.
After being back in the United States for a month, Moran is hopeful that the trip will not be her last. She is considering returning for a year once she graduates next year from Regis University to focus on bringing hope to the Namibian children, especially the younger girls.
She explained that many of the young girls “don’t have hope for advancement, so they find validation of themselves through the opposite gender.” Moran expressed the desire to assist the women on a spiritual level through the program, ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women). Instead of turning to a promiscuous lifestyle, the girls will find dignity and hope in Christ, she explained.