by Richard Bauer
originally printed in Maryknoll Magazine (December 1998)
In Tanzania's capital, the Church offers a safe place for people to find dignity and friendship
Dar es Salaam means "Haven of Peace," but since the onset of AIDS, far too many young Tanzanians have neither a haven nor peace. Amid much poverty and suffering in this capital city of 3 million people, we are trying to offer people with AIDS a real haven of peace. Our program is called PASADA. That's short for Pastoral Activities and Services for people with AIDS in the Dar es Salaam archdiocese.
My name is Rick Bauer. I'm a Catholic priest and missionary from the diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, now working as an Associate of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. For almost a year now, I've lived and worked alongside the people of Dar es Salaam who suffer with AIDS.
AIDS has hit Tanzania hard. The U.N. estimates that in Dar es Salaam at least 15 percent of the people have tested HIV positive. Of course, AIDS is also a problem back home. But in the United States we've been able to marshal our resources for research, education and treatment and, as a result, the number of AIDS deaths is declining. That's not true in Tanzania and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The epidemic is spreading. What's worse, in Africa AIDS has hit societies already crippled by poverty, violence and political instability. While Tanzania has enjoyed more peace than its neighbors, its resources for treatment and preventive education are few.
Many of the poorest people with AIDS simply fall through the cracks and die homeless and alone. At a recent patient support group, one woman said, "We have nowhere else to go. PASADA helps us with medicine and food. Most important, you care about us." Another woman added, "I worry most about my children. My husband died last year and I am sick now. With PASADA, I know they will stay in school and be cared for."
Through PASADA, Catholic Christians in Dar es Salaam are responding to this crisis. The PASADA staff of four missioners and 1 7 Tanzanians serves more than 1,200 clients. We provide medical care, counseling, social support and material necessities, such as food, soap and fuel. We also help with burial costs when the time comes. At least 600 patients come to our clinic each week. Responding to those too sick to reach the clinic, a home-care nurse makes more than 140 visits each month, often treating several patients in a single household.
In addition to overall administrative work, I'm responsible for the program of counseling and pastoral care. We provide pre- and post-test counseling for people at risk for HIV. We help those who test positive to work through their anguish and arrive at some sense of hope for future living. In this ministry we try to embody the healing, consoling and comforting presence of Jesus. PASADA also presents community-based AIDS education seminars for small groups around the city.
As you might expect, AIDS is particularly rough on children, not just physically but emotionally as well. One of our younger visitors said, "Sometimes other children won't play with me. They are afraid. At PASADA I feel safe." About 20 percent of our HIV-positive clients are children under the age of 10. We work with another 150 children whose parents have died of AIDS. We are usually successful in placing them with extended family members. Unfortunately, some of these children have been placed more than once because their foster parents also became sick with AIDS. Of course, many of the youngsters orphaned by AIDS are also HIV positive.
Some of them have resolved to make their misfortune into an opportunity to help others. With students from the University of Dar es Salaam, these HIV-positive children have formed a small theater group called the "School Without Walls." Their original plays, songs and dances communicate a message of HIV prevention through chastity and fidelity. They perform on the streets and in the slums, spreading the word about prevention where it is needed most.
Here at PASADA we can't save people. Nor can we cure AIDS. Nobody can, yet. But we can give people with AIDS more good days than they would have without us. We can give them the chance to live each day with dignity and hope. And, when we must, we can send them forth from this life surrounded by love.