Monday, December 12, 2005

Going home in a casket!

I remember being out for a few drinks one evening with a couple of my Batswana friends. As we chatted over a few beers a commotion broke out nearby. I asked the guys what the fuss was all about. They translated for me....

A few Batswana were teasing their Zambian colleague that he would return to Zed in a box like all of his brothers (Zambian compatriots rather than biological brothers.) They poked fun at him saying that he would certainly not leave Botswana alive because he wouldn't be able to resist the beauty and charms of the local women. I have no idea what happened to the Zambian guy but I know that in thier cruelty the Batswana were not exaggerating too much!

Even more tragic is the fact that many men who are forced to work outside of their own countries and end up in Botswana (South Africa or any other copmparatively rich neighbour) end up infecting their wives with HIV. These men take chances with their own lives by indulging in one night stands or uncommitted sexual relationships but they also pass on the virus to their wives as well as their young or unborn children.

In such circumstances the man will often die first. Ironically he will often die in his own home after months of nursing from his faithful and loving wife. Soon after the widow will fall sick and be nursed by her eldest child (more often than not her eldest daughter - who will drop out of school to support the family.) The cycle of sickness and poverty continues as the eldest child raises her siblings. These children may be fortunate and be cared for by an Aunt or Grandmother but all to often there is no one for them. Or worse they may end up stigmatised and discriminated against due to the fact that their parents died from Aids related illnesses.

The guys who were joking about the Zambian going home in a box might not have laughed so much had they thought about the grief and suffering that HIV/AIDS causes!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Life and death in Botswana

When I was living in Botswana I worked in a College of Education near the City of Francistown. I worked as a lecturer in Religious Education. The students in my classes were primarily between the ages of 18 and 21 although some were slightly older. When I first started lecturing at the college I knew that one in three were likely to be HIV positive. I remember trying to work out which ones might be positive. There was no way of knowing though. Over my two and a half years of working at the college several of my students went off 'sick' - sometimes for weeks or months. Most returned after a time but not all. Many died and many more have subsequently died.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Giving with one hand, taking with the other!

Gordon Brown’s speech was tremendous in terms of his commitment on behalf of the British government to aspire towards universal free education for all primary aged children and to a universal system of health care for the poor of the world. Mr Brown promised that Britain would continue to play a key role in changing the hearts and minds of key allies in order to MAKE POVERTY HISTORY. I, like my students, was inspired by the Chancellor but I did have one question that I was itching to ask him...

I wanted to know how the British government can justify the recruitment of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, in some case professionals who have trained for up to seven years at the expense of their own people, from the developing world in order to prop up the NHS? Isn’t that immoral? Isn’t it the case that our society gives with one hand and takes away with the other? Unfortunately I did not get to ask the Chancellor my question.

The Christian community and beyond , including our schools & local parishes must play a key role in keeping the pressure on our governments to ensure that Trade Justice, debt relief and better overseas aid remain the focal point of the international community until the time that poverty and injustice is not just reduced but totally eradicated. Jesus made the observation that the ‘poor will always be with us’ but this was not a policy mandate but a challenge to Christians to work tirelessly to MAKE POVERTY HISTORY.’

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Chancellor of the Exchequer - Making Poverty History?

“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.”
Nelson Mandela’s challenge to us at start of this year’s make poverty history campaign.

On Thursday 17th November seven of my A level students and I joined parishioners from a local parish and CAFOD activists to go to Manchester to listen to the Chancellor Gordon Brown speak on the theme of ‘MAKE POVERTY HISTORY.’

One of my students wrote the following for our school newsletter:

‘MAKE POVERTY HISTORY is a campaign I have followed with interest and I looked forward to hearing the opinions of such a major political figure. As a student of A level Politics and Religious Ethics it was a fantastic opportunity to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer speak about one of the major issues of 2005.

I went to the speech expecting to hear a fair few untruths and reasons why actions could not be taken.

However, when listening to Gordon Brown’s speech, he seemed really passionate about the cause and wanted to see action taken to help the world’s poor as much as his audience did. He was pro-active in seeking change for the developing world and urged the current generation to be the generation to make a difference rather than the generation that had the opportunity but missed it.

Overall it was a very impressive speech which inspired me and encouraged me and hundreds of others to continue the fight to MAKE POVERTY HISTORY.'

Whether or not Mr Brown is true to his word I hope and pray that the interest of my students in MAKING POVERTY HISTORY is sustained. They have so much hope for the future and the future is in their hands! They can be the generation that makes the difference!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Why won't you wear a Red Ribbon sir?

Despite the great success of some of my colleagues and I in getting hundreds of our students to wear Red Ribbons last week I was still shocked by the reluctance of some of my colleagues to wear one.

I work in a Catholic school. I am well aware that some of the teachings of the Church are controversial, to say the least, on the issue of artificial contraception and HIV/AIDS (this is atopic for future!) but one of the parts of Catholicism that I love is it's Social Teaching. The Church advocates the principle of Solidarity. Standing up for one's brother or sister, standing shoulder to shoulder with the world's poor and oppressed, not resting until we live in a fair and just world. The analogy of the 'Body of Christ being sick' is one that as a Christian I embrace the cocept of 'The Body of Christ has AIDS' and all members of the Christian community and beyond have an absolute duty to ensure that all parts of his body are respected, receive compassion, are granted justice and are permitted to live in hope!

So why did the Headteacher in my school refuse to wear a Red Ribbon last week? God only knows!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nkosi Johnson - an true inspiration!

When I discussed HIV/AIDS with my younger pupils (11-14 years old) I focussed on the story on Nkosi Johnson. For those who are unaware Nkosi died of an Aids related illness on 1st June 2001 a short time after speaking out to the world at the Durban AIDS Conference in 2000. As a 10 year old Nkosi took to the platform in front of 10000 people, the world's media as well as President Mbeki and former President Mandela. Nkosi tlaked of his story of living with HIV but he was not bitter or angry - he was full of hope. He urged the world to tackle the pandemic and to ensure that children like him would not have to die. His word at the conference moved many to tears:

"Care for us and accept us - we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else. Don't be afraid of us - we are all the same."

I have never been touched as deeply by a politician or world figure as I was touched by Nkosi and my pupils also find him an true inspiration. One of my older students actually commented that 'he would have been my age if he had lived.'

For more information about Nkosi's Haven and Nkosi's story visit The website has an excellent biography of Nkosi and a transcript of his deeply moving speech in Durban.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Worlds Aids Day at school

I made World Aids Day a huge issue at my school last week. I work in a school of over 1500 students between the ages of 11-19 in the north west of England and I reckon half of them were supporting a Red Ribbon over the past week. Not only were the students wearing the Red Ribbons but we put on special PSHE (Personal Social Health Education) lessons to teach them about HIV/AIDS. Many of my students, some of whom aren't the easiest to teach in the world, were hanging on my every word as I told them some of the stories I have retold thus far in my blog. They were truly touched by the plight of those affected by HIV/AIDS and many of them asked what they could do to help. As youngsters they were mostly moved by the stories of babies and infants infected with HIV through mother to child transmission. They were angered when I explained that no child should be born with HIV but due to the injust world we live in millions of mothers are denied access to HAART's.