By Allison Beebe
ELCA World Hunger recently held an event outside of Atlanta, Georgia on the topic of HIV & AIDS. Those in attendance were a blend of professionals in the field, people with personal testimonials related to HIV & AIDS, and interested members of the faith community. We looked at HIV & AIDS from our vantage point in the U.S., and also from an international perspective. It was an event which encouraged open dialogue and informed action.
I have had a heightened interest in HIV & AIDS after spending some time in East Africa. While in college, I studied and volunteered in Kenya through a program called “Minnesota Studies in International Development.” This particular study abroad program focused on public health as it relates to international development.
This experience brought me to an organization called “Solidarity with Women in Distress” or SOLWODI. This organization provides vocational training, access to basic health care and counseling to women who find themselves in difficult situations. Specifically, SOLWODI serves women who have been coerced into commercial sex work. Prevalence rates of HIV & AIDS are high within this demographic. With families to support and no jobs to be found in their community, women have sold their bodies in a desperate attempt to earn some income. Many of the women who frequented SOLWODI were people living with HIV or AIDS. They came for health screenings or vocational training, but stayed for the encouraging community where they wouldn’t be judged for their actions. While I admittedly arrived at SOLWODI with my own set of stigmas and assumptions, I left knowing that these were women with hearts of gold in desperate situations. They inspired me to find ways that I could be involved with the HIV & AIDS community in my home context.
The time spent in Atlanta reminded me of my cherished Kenyan friends. This was a chance to stand in solidarity with them, and rally around the same cause though we are in different places. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. With that logic, when one member of the body of Christ stands up against injustice, we can all stand together.
One of the things I took away from the event was that hunger and HIV & AIDS are very closely connected. Some reasons are obvious – people who are not eating a nutritious diet are not as healthy, and therefore have a more difficult time fighting off disease. Some reasons related to my SOLWODI sisters – people who are hungry will do anything to earn money for a good meal. This can lead to prostitution, where HIV & AIDS is more likely to be transmitted. Some reasons are consequential – once a person contracts HIV, they must purchase medicine, which may prevent them from purchasing adequate food. As the list goes on, it becomes clear that hunger is a thread which is woven into the HIV & AIDS story.
It is my hope that people left Atlanta knowing that ELCA World Hunger is a place where they can be engaged to support work related to HIV & AIDS. When we fight against hunger, we fight against many more issues of injustice, not the least of which is HIV & AIDS.
Allison Beebe, Assistant for Constituent Relations ELCA World Hunger