Last Monday was World AIDS Day. In Mozambique where the infection rate is high, and the majority of the thousands of NGOs here are working in some way against HIV/AIDS, this is a big day. In typical Mozambican style, campaigns were organized. Men and women in matching, sloganed tee-shirts, and women in matching capulanas organized themselves around town and marched to and around different roundabouts and public squares where various musicians and speakers greeted them. Mozambicans love to march.
Around Beira red AIDS ‘ribbons’ have been painted on the white paint that already encircles the bottoms of every tree along the main roads. In a city where the HIV/AIDS rate is reported at 34% (and that’s likely a low figure), it’s a visible reminder of hope in combating the disease.
But what does that hope actually look like?
I have learned two important cultural lessons since I’ve been here: ‘help’ and ‘development’ to many Mozambicans means handouts, and few people accept personal responsibility for anything. Most development organizations are working in an opposite manner. Because of mistakes made in the past, mission and development organizations have realized the futility and harm in giving out money and stuff. The idea now is to teach and train. It’s that whole teach a man to fish thing. And responsibility? Well, we want people to learn how to make positive choices and take responsibility for their own lives.
Mozambicans know about abstinence and faithfulness. They know about using condoms. They’re not doing it. Somewhere there is a mental disconnect between what they do in the bedroom and the spread of the disease. A group of teachers I met with to discuss corruption admitted that they were having sex with students. Several stated that a problem at that school was pregnant students, yet they all claimed the girls were not impregnated by teachers. (We’re sleeping with students, but it must be male students who are impregnating them.) They recognized that the spread of HIV/AIDS was one of the consequences of sexual corruption. When discussing it further, one teacher said, “We need to talk to those AIDS activists and ask why they’re not teaching people to use condoms.” (The activists’ fault.) Another teacher pointed out that men don’t like to use condoms because they like “fresh flesh”. When discussing financial corruption, they said, “So much money is being spent on HIV/AIDS programs, but the rate continues to increase. Where is that money going?” (NGOs’ fault.) And you, Teacher, have you been faithful to your wife? Did you use a condom the last time you slept with someone? Churches say the government needs to do something about HIV/AIDS; it’s not the Church’s responsibility. But how many people in churches are infected? Pastor, have you been faithful to your wife?
Therefore, when we have different people from different parts of the world gathering together in Beira, Mozambique to discuss hope for a future free from HIV/AIDS, the path toward that freedom looks quite different in different people’s minds. Some are hoping the Government or NGOs will spend more money on ‘programs’ to make AIDS disappear. Some are hoping their teaching and training will sink in so that people will start choosing to be abstinent or faithful or use condoms. But really, I think most people lack hope. For many NGO workers, they’re just doing their job, but are they doing their job with a true expectation and vision that the HIV/AIDS rate can indeed decrease? For many others, Mozambicans and non alike, they’ll continue to live their lives, ‘hoping’, with no personal involvement, that HIV/AIDS will begin decreasing on its own.
Where do I stand in Hope? I’m quick to criticize Mozambicans’ attitudes toward AIDS (or corruption or poverty or any other social disease), but can I see how my own sin and personal choices contribute to Evil in the world? Yes, I said Evil. Or do I sit back and blame those sinful people and their personal choices. Do my prayers indicate a genuine expectancy and willingness to be involved, or are they merely reciting from memory, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”?
The AIDS ribbon red on the trees reminds me of another red on another tree. God made a very personal choice so that I might have Hope.