Let’s Tekanya!

Let’s Tekanya!

The long awaited 2017 Annual Budget for Zambia was presented on November the 11th. Despite Zambia experiencing rapid economic growth, many Zambians are yet to have seen their economic situations improving.

One of the major changes for taxpayers is the increase of the non-taxable income threshold by 10% to K3300.00 which, while welcome, is below the rise in the cost of living. This will hit us hard, particularly as the price of fuel has also been increasing since October.

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The 5 Pillars
In his budget, the Finance Minister introduced 5 pillars called Zambia Plus to help address ‘economic imbalances’. The aim of Zambia Plus is to improve revenue collection, to enable the country to afford some social protection, promote transparency and good governance, to control public expenditure by adhering to budget lines, thus providing economic stability.

I can’t help but notice that this has the fingerprints of the usual suspects on it, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)! Twice my pre-arranged meetings at the Ministry have been cancelled by them. They are apparently going to fund service training for Maths and Science teachers, look at the textbook chain and build some rural Primary schools (Proof that nowadays even the World Bank needs to showcase corporate social responsibility!).

Education
Within the Education Sector, the main focus is to complete infrastructure developments. Over 6000 teachers are needed to fill open places and to reduce the high pupil-teacher ratio. Grants will be replaced by student loans and a public-private Skills Development Fund established for entrepreneurial vocational education.

Small and Medium Enterprise.
As well as offering greater social protection, there are moves to improve matters for small and medium enterprises with a Credit Guarantee which offers credit at more affordable interest rates. Irrigation is to be helped to increase the production of non-traditional exports such as cotton, rice and soya beans. The aim is to create 100,000 decent jobs.

Water and Sanitation
Many Zambians do not have access to safe drinking water or decent toilet facilities. There is therefore an objective to increase rural access to safe drinking water from the current 51% to 55% and to raise the amount of households having toilets. There is also a bid to promote recycling and waste-to-energy innovations.

Health
Construction and upgrading of health facilities continues with the recruitment and training of frontline health personnel. Ida has spent the last two days queueing in the courtyard of the Ministry of Health with paperwork for the recruitment of staff for the UCZ Health Institutions, along with thousands of other youngsters hoping to get on the Government payroll. The procurement of drugs and medical equipment is another priority, as is the opening of universal compulsory health coverage by a Social Health Insurance Scheme. Provincial satellite cancer centres are planned.

Social and Economic Support
The Social Cash Transfer Scheme is a Government of Zambia programme aimed at reducing extreme poverty and the inter-generational transfer of poverty. It will now extend to 500,000 households, up from 24,000, and the monthly amount of money given will increase by 28%.  The Food Security Pack Programme will reach 40,000 vulnerable farmers, up from 30,000. The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme for Health and Education will help 134,000 poor and vulnerable. The School Feeding Programme will be increased from 1 million to 1.25 million pupils. The Women’s Development Programme is now reaching 7,000 women will add 25,000 women each year for the next 3 years, and will provide free sanitary towels to schools in peri-urban and rural areas. That is a summary and round-up of the Social Sector.

The Cost of Living
We regularly follow the Zambian Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) which keeps a monthly tally of the cost of a shopping basket of basic commodities, known as a Basic Needs Basket, for a family of five in various cities nationwide.

The cost of living for Lusaka as measured by the JCTR Basic Needs Basket (BNB) for an average Zambian family of five has hit a first time high: ZMW5,036.28 (£405.59) in the month of October 2016. The price of mealie meal, beans, green-leafy vegetables, cooking oil, bread, sugar, tea and charcoal have all gone up. The other major economic concern of many Zambians is the expected increase in the price of electricity so that it becomes more ‘cost-reflective’.

Life is difficult at the moment for city and town-dwellers who are struggling with little or no inflation level pay-rises. Often they come home from work to no power and water. This means cooking on charcoal and doing washing at unusual times to make use of the water when it is available. There is a familiar ZESCO advert on power-saving that the ZNBC TV. broadcasts which uses the slogan: Let’s tekanya (let’s get prepared, let’s organise ourselves) and that’s what most Zambians uncomplainingly, resourcefully and almost fatalistically are doing ready for hard times ahead….

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Lead us to the Fullness of Life

Lead us to the Fullness of Life

Members and Clergy of The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) from all over the country met in Kabwe at the UCZ Diakonia Centre on Saturday and Sunday the 12 and 13 November for the 2016 Synod Executive. The UCZ is present in all 10 of Zambia’s Provinces.

As the interim policy-making body of the UCZ, the Synod Executive, meets twice annually between full Synod meetings that are called every two years. The Executive helps to determine the future direction of the Church, considers revisions to Church policies, and approves plans and budgets for Congregational, Consistory, Presbytery and church-wide programs.

During the 2-day session, which included worship and moments of celebration and devotion, around 80 delegates considered reports from the Church’s Committees and Departments.

After the closed Pastoral Sessions and the Finance Committee Meeting, the Executive opened under the chairmanship of Synod Bishop Sydney Sichilima, assisted by the General Secretary Rev Dr Peggy Mulambya-Kabonde. The Chaplain was Rev Moses Zgambo. After progress reports on action taken on previous business, the meeting moved on to reports and recommendations from Committee Convenors.

Matters discussed were the introduction of team ministry, conditions of service and the good progress being made with the Church’s K30,000,000 Investment Complex being built at Woodlands in Lusaka.

The draft Strategic Plan 2017-2021 was also presented, including the Church’s restructuring to become more missional-based.

Updates were also received from the Secretaries responsible for Social Services; the Church partners with the government to provide quality health, education and social services through the Diaconal Ministry to the nation, often to the marginalised and those living on the peripheries of society.

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The price of Mealie Meal, a staple food in Zambia, has increased significantly. 

There then followed a presentation on international finance and its economic architecture, and the ecumenical approach sister churches are taking to create a life-affirming economy for all, instead of the present life-denying globalisation of the economy.

The Church affirmed the importance of land with title deeds and urged members to guard church land as part of their heritage. Coupled with this is an encouragement to all church members and citizens to participate in caring for the environment and using natural resources sustainably.

The Church further affirmed the worth of all persons, male and female regardless their status in life. For this reason, the Church condemned in the strongest terms the current spate of gender-based violent acts leading to assault-related and even murder cases .The Church, therefore, encourages all Zambians to eschew violence and to live at peace with one another

In order for the nation to be food-secure in the coming year, the Church encouraged all its members and citizens to work hard and take advantage of the rainy season, through farming whilst using more sustainable methods.

Finally the Church reiterated its call for members and fellow citizens to demonstrate prudent management of resources in view of the strained economic times, leading to enhanced social and economic lives at both household and national level.

This all tuned in well with the theme of the Executive Meeting:
Christ, lead us to the fullness of life” John 10:10.

Lusaka Days

Lusaka Days

Since our last blog in July, when we reported on the Durban 2016 International AIDS Conference, things have been very busy. After returning from the conference we were both pre-occupied with field work; travelling to our respective Health and Education Institutions for the second board meeting of the year.

Our days in Lusaka are very different from those on a rural Mission. To give you an idea of what our daily lives are like, we decided to do ‘A Day in the Life of’ diary blog this time…

Good Morning!

We are usually woken up around 5.30am by a call-boy shouting – MTENDERE! MTENDERE! A call-boy in Zambia is a minibus driver’s mate who collects the fares and entices passengers to use that bus. ‘Mtendere’ is a high-density suburb…! 

That is the signal for us to make the coffee, check our emails and scroll down Twitter to get the news headlines: Zambian, international, and Scottish. At the Synod we are opposite the sprawling University Teaching Hospital. The area is busy with mini buses delivering and picking up staff, patients, and visitors throughout the day and early evening.

It is now November and we are anxiously awaiting the rains. The temperatures are up in the high 30s most days. The jacaranda and flamboyant are in bloom as a sign of hope. Thankfully higher rainfall than normal is forecast for Lusaka.

At 6am we get our children, Mubita and Ellie, up. Mubita is a lark and Ellie an owl. Nevertheless, by 06.30am we are all washed and dressed and the children are at breakfast before our friend Bridget takes them off to school.

hutBetween 07.30 and 08.00am David and Florence arrive. At the moment David has just finished building our garden shed. He is now plastering the office, laundry room and shed, and laying Kariba stone paving around the house to help keep the red dust at bay.

Florence looks after the running of the house completely which allows us to do our jobs, and lives in to cover for us when we are in the field. Bridget, David and Florence all came with us from Mwandi.

At 8am we gather in the foyer at Synod for devotions which consists of an opening hymn and prayer then the welcome and notices from the Administration Secretary. There is a slot for the choir then the Reading and Sermon, most members of staff take a turn at this. Devotions are finished with a closing hymn and prayer. Then off to work in the office.

img_2166Much of the morning is taken up with making and receiving telephone calls, answering emails, drafting memos, minutes, reports and project proposals, and meeting with people who have made appointments. Both of us are busy consolidating policy documents. The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) is constructing a new office block at Woodlands, which is about 3 kilometres away. As such, the Departments who were stationed there have moved temporarily to Synod, and naturally the Health department is squatting with Education.

Education wise, many schools have made good progress with building new classroom blocks. Long-standing infrastructural problems, including water reticulation, are being tackled systematically. Yet, we continue to face the huge problem of staff shortages and frozen positions.

Power-cuts continue to be a challenge within our hospitals and clinics. Our long term objective is to move all our health institutions onto solar energy with ZESCO as back-up.

Time for Lunch

Lunch hour is between 1 and 2pm. We walk back the 75m to our home. Mubita only attends school for a half-day, so he comes home for a sandwich and some fruit at lunch.

In the afternoon we are often out of the office dealing with human resource issues at the Ministry of Education or Health, and will be pricing teaching, learning and medical materials.

We are also involved with the Education Secretaries Forum. Here we are reviewing as stakeholders the Statutory Instrument that set up the Mission Schools, as part of grant-aided institutions and the 2011 Education Act. Ida also represents the UCZ on the Board of the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) that looks after Mission Hospitals.

The Day Draws to an End

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Synod closes down at 5pm and we head home. Ellie is home too by then. The children watch an hour of TV until supper at 6.30pm. This is our main meal of the day usually meat, chicken, fish, veg and salad. Though the children like chicken and rice on Monday home-made pizza on Friday and sausage and chips on Saturday!

The 7pm national news on ZNBC is a national institution which most people watch, though the ZNBC is, like the BBC a state/public broadcaster, with its own idiosyncratic spin on the news and national events but people are aware of this.

Night falls quickly here and it’s dark by then. Bedtime – prayers and brushing teeth for the children is next.

We are off to bed soon after the children, before getting up to do it all again the next day!

AIDS 2016 – The Last Days

Wednesday: At a symposium held by Global Funding concerning sustainable financing and the challenges and opportunities this presented in regard to the Aids programme were raised, there was general agreement that at present inadequate funds are the main problem, as  HIV funding is characterised by donor dependency and uncertainty, it was difficult to respond adequately to everyone’s needs. There is need for recipient countries to contribute more themselves and more sustainable health plans for the future. The same song as earlier conferences sang, learn to do more with less. A massive extra $13 billion is needed if the 2030 goals are to be reached. Major trials with an Aids vaccines will be undertaken shortly in South Africa following promising early results.

BIMG_1430ill Gates was part of a special session which discussed accelerating the decline of the burden and incidence of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa and offered his perspective on the HIV Treatment revolution and the need for creative new thinking in prevention. He warned that ‘the largest generation in history is entering an age when they are more at risk from HIV.’ The success of high uptake and self-reporting of oral prep by Afro-American males was reported. Elton John also made an appearance on Wednesday. He apparently reminded all that without inclusion and respect for human rights no amount of scientific progress can end Aids.

Finally Zambia has adopted but not yet implemented under the 90-90-90 programme, Test and Treat regardless of CD4 level.

Thursday: In the plenary session we heard of expanding access for all at risk and in IMG_1438need. Early ART for infants is very important. They can live a normal life if early suppression takes place. If tested for HIV the results are negative but if ARVs are stopped rebound can be fatal within 2-3 weeks. In another case, an HIV+ adult male with cancer was treated with a bone marrow transplant and cured of HIV. Research continues with early initiation and viral suppression along with bone marrow transplants. Prince Harry, Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and Elton John spent time talking with the youth.

In the morning we also visited the Faith Area where the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria discussed how churches could be more welcoming to those triply stigmatised, namely women living with HIV and disability. The two main speakers had expectations from the church of compassion and care. They looked for accessibility to and within the building, signing and Braille services, help with officialdom, income generation, and more controversially condom phrophyllaxis to prevent conception, infection from STDs and HIV.

On Thursday, the faith-bIMG_1448ased contingent all dressed in black in solidarity with the 1 in 3 women worldwide who face violence in their lives, in protest against all systems, cultures and societies that promote any form of violence, in mourning for all who are harmed or killed by sexual violence and to raise awareness and knowledge of SGBV, in the hope of the possibility of a different reality for all those affected.

IMG_1444Friday: The plenary was addressed by Dr Dorothy Mbori from UNICEF Nigeria who again highlighted the failure to test babies early enough and the challenge presented by 15-19 year old adolescents; this cohort has the highest rate of infection at the moment. There was need for only one Health Record per person for life. VCT needed to be expanded to include everyone. Integrated Community based service programmes needed to be available at community-level. Churches ,too, should increase VCT services to all congregants, especially those getting married and those pregnant. Youth-friendly services should be more widely available. Testing within hospitals should be universal and every admission should be tested.

Carlos Del Rio urged a fast-tracking of our response to AIDS in the next 5 years with adolescent-focused programmes, a scaling up of Prep, integrated care and improved viral- load testing. A holistic approach and the full funding of Global Funds were both vital to meet these needs.

IMG_1376The closing session contained the Rapporteurs Report which included the Global Village followed by closing remarks various dignitaries. The South African Minister of Health rightly warned against complacency and others protested that criminalisation of key populations will not end Aids. Silence leads to death. We looked ahead to AIDS 2018 in Amsterdam. 15800 people participated.

I was able to meet with some key members of the health professions from Zambia, from the Ministry of Health, CHAZ and other Zambian-based NGOs. We all felt that Zambia’s voice was not being adequately heard and we should all work together to improve this. The governance of the International Aids Society is a concern as it is not as inclusive or diverse as it should be. Two examples; there are only 5 women out of 30 members on the Governing Council and all of Africa is represented by 4 middle-aged male doctors.

We are now delayed in Durban waiting for a new clutch to arrive from Cape Town for our aging car. We hope to leave now on Wednesday all being well and car permitting…………

 

AIDS 2016- Interfaith Prayer Service

IMG_1421This took place on Tuesday evening at Roman Catholic Emmanuel Cathedral in Central Durban which has served the community since 1902. It has a well-known ministry to the poor and in doing so, cooperates with people of all faith traditions, with a clinic, feeding programme, vocational and educational training and support, as well as pastoral outreach; treating all people as children of the one God. Much of the inspiration for this work came from the former Archbishop Denis Hurley who was a renowned champion of justice and peace and a fierce opponent of apartheid. The Cathedral is situated in the busiest, most vibrant and ethnically diverse part of Durban, standing cheek by jowl with a Mosque, markets and minibus station. Rev Aftab Gohar, Rev Daniel Ganizane, Mubita and I attended on behalf of the Church of Scotland,  the Evangelical Church of Christ in Mozambique, the Methodists and United Church of Zambia

IMG_1418The Cathedral Choir sang Zulu choruses as a prelude while we gathered and then they sang the Introit: Make me a Channel of Your Peace before we were welcomed by Sister Alison Munro.

The opening prayer was given by Ms Abdia Naidoo from the Baha’i Faith while a young girl prayed for children

The Anglican Archbishop then reflected on the need to go beyond treatment and care and minister to those in need regardless of who they are and what they do. He had had a recent pastoral encounter with a sex-worker that had convicted him.

Alan Hofland, the Buddhist Representative, offered the mantra chant: Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond. Enlightenment, Hail! This protects the mind, cuts through distress and in a poetic and symbolic way helps develop and bring to mind loving kindness and compassion. Ms Thobeka Doda then led prayers for the Youth.

The congregation were invited to stand to and respond to the Litany of Commitment led by the Swedish Lutheran Pastor REV JP Mokgethi-Heath. The Litany stressed the innate dignity and value of all human life. The congregation promised by working together to increase its efforts in responding to the HIV epidemic without tiring, to speak out against stigmatisation everywhere, to help to improve access, work to eliminate discriminatory laws and improve services and treatment for children. All this in the hope that HIV one day will no longer be a threat.

Sheikh Saleem Banda from the Muslim Community offered a Prayer of Intercession and Petition while Ms Dhunluxmi Desai gave a prayer for peace.

There then followed a very moving ceremony where each congregant was invited to light a nightlight in memory of someone who had died of AIDS. The nightlights were laid out on the chancel in the shape of the red ribbon AIDS logo and to put another aids logo sticker on a map of the world for someone living with HIV. Each pew lined up and each individual kneeling for a moment to remember as they lit the candle then rising and putting the sticker on the country where their AIDS survivor lived. While this was going on the Cathedral Choir sang Ukuthula or Peace a very powerful and beautiful South African chorus.

Ms Paddy Meskin, the Jewish Representative, shared a beautifully deep, life-affirming poem written by her father-in-law an Auschwitz survivor called Invocation and finished by singing the Aaronic Blessing in Hebrew.

Rev Mokgethi-Heath gave the benediction and we closed with the South African National Anthem.

Interfaith Services are often criticised as being fairly vacuous as they must by their nature appeal to the lowest common denominator so as not to cause offence. At this service there was a unity of spirit, definite synergy that was more than a sum of the parts. It was a call to action to tackle the lack of access, stigma, discrimination human and children’s rights. The faith community has largely been at the forefront of these interventions for greater social justice and inclusion. It was this that helped bring us together. While secular leaders recognise the crucial role of faith communities in the response to HIV/AIDS and many of our Health Associations are direct recipients for our respective countries from Global Funding and PEPFAR, it is interesting that at IAS plenary sessions while all the various other sectors and noisy bandwagons are represented, there is one missing, the faith sector. One wonders if this is a deliberate side-lining and lack of inclusion on the part of  IAS’s Executive Team.

 

AIDS 2016 -21st INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE

IMG_1383Monday morning, Mandela Day, was taken up by a march organised by TAC (Treatment For All Campaign). Being a BRIS(Middle Income) Country South Africa has to pay the full price for ARVs demanded by the world pharmaceutical giants and cannot rely on generics like Zambia. Zambia also has its ARVs paid for by PEPFAR and Global Funding. South Africa has a very limited form of National Health Service which makes health care very expensive and there is a lack of access for many individuals to treatment and care. There are now 35 million people living with AIDS globally, there are 2 million new infections each year and around 1.2 million people died in 2014 of AIDS related causes.

We were bussed to the King Dinizulu Park in Central Durban where we gathered in a crowd of around 5000 for the March for Health. We were a mixture of people and interests from Faith-based organisations, ANC cadres, Trade Unions, LGBT I Community and sex workers. It was a very South African affair with the usual toyi-toyi dance interspersed with with songs and the Amandla- Awethu cry. The ladies in front of us encouraged us to sing and move and translated for us. Behind an Argentian group responded with the Spanish : United, united, the people will never be defeated.

The crowd made its way down Dr Pixley Kaseme Streey (a lawyer and original founder of the 1912 ANC) and gathered outside City Hall and called out in vain for Ban Ki Moon, who was apparently inside on an official visit. He was to grace the opening ceremony as well. The crowd then peacefully dispersed and made its way back to the global village and Conference Centre for the official opening of the conference.

We then bumped into Sarah Boseley, the Guardian’s Health Editor, and as we walked we discussed the probability of the return of a high death rate in low and middle income countries and how an increased infection rate together with a decline in funding was making access extremely difficult in remote rural areas and leading to the dangers of increased resistance. A vicious circle.

18 000 delegates gathered in the hall to hear Kwetu, Mandela’s grandson look to the future, then Charlize Theron, the SA celebrity and film actress reminded us that to cure aids we need to cure our hearts and minds of the diseases that we harbour there. Chris Beyer said the response was threatened by complacency and a lack of funding. It was a human rights and social justice issue for the marginalised.

IMG_1399As an aside the following improvements in service delivery need to be undertaken.  it is vital to find out what patients need not what is convenient for the Health Worker. A reduction in the frequency of clinics that a healthy HIV+ client need attend should be reduced to a minimum, accessing their drugs through their local Community Health worker. VCT needs to be more widely available so that all may know heir status.

As a Christian it was good to see the secular world begin to accept the Church’s view of the holistic intersectionality of the fight and that it is multi-dimensional and that the disease is not caused by factors working independently. We know that multiple forms of discrimination need to be addressed in this fight. Desmond Tutu’s message and prayer echoed this in pointing out the unholy relationship between gender, class, poverty, injustice and discrimination.

And so ended the first day. One concern is that the transport and shuttle services are geared to ferrying delegates to and from the various 3-5 star hotels in the neighbourhood. Those are people usually here on expenses and in less need of public transport than those of us paying for food, transport and accommodation from our own pockets. The Church of Scotland kindly pays for my registration at the conference but all other expenses I meet myself. Daniel from Mozambique for example is living in the suburbs where less costly accommodation is available but has to pay R200(£10) each way in taxi-fares. This is a considerable sum for people from less developed countries.

Elton John and Prince Harry have, we hear, been invited to address the conference as well. Still we are told a society is best judged how it treats its minorities and the International Aids Association clearly treats the 1% very well…….

Faith on the Fast Track

We spent a comfortable night in our holiday flat and on the Thursday morning took some time find our bearings locally. We are very close to the Botanical Gardens and the Steve Biko Campus of the Durban University of Technology. It is a student-area so the laundrette and grocery shopping are all a short walk away. In the afternoon we drove to the rather ostentatious Pavilion Shopping Centre to buy a padded, foldable  camping mattress for Mubita, rather than having to wrestle with blowing up the provided  inflatable mattress each evening. Based very loosely on the design of the Brighton Pavilion, the mall is built in a faux and fanciful Indo Saracenic style, a bit like a set for Aladdin, perched on a hill at the edge of the motorway, with rotundas, domes and minarets. No doubt the Prince Regent would have approved as it caters well for gastronomic cuisine, gaming, luxury shopping, (film) theatres and generally fast-living!

IMG_1328On Friday we walked down to the Durban Exhibition Centre where a series of marquees across the road  by Central Park served as the Registration Centre and the  Shuttle Terminus.  We recrossed the footbridge to the Exhibition Halls and the Global Village which were being set out and bumped into Bateuke Waklisiku from the Catholic Medical Mission Board. We then took Mubita to the beach, and got to work with bucket and shovel on the sand.

On Saturday 16 July the Interfaith Preconference got underway at La Vita Conference Centre near the beach with a lighted candle to signify the sacred space. As people of faith and hope, we believe that the ending of HIV and AIDS will happen. The conference themes were reducing stigma and discrimination, increasing access and defending human rights. The immediacy of working towards these goals was underscored. A major concern to emerge was the failure to treat children living with HIV. There are reckoned to be over a million children globally who are untreated. Nigeria has 26% of its affected children not receiving ART, India 11%, RSA 7% and Zambia 4%.

In other matters of Zambian interest Dr Jean Claude Kazadi from Catholic Relief IMG_1345stressed the important role that local partners play in response to treatment and support. There was also a moving testimony from Melodie Jongwe a young mother  who is HIV+ and whose son was also born HIV+. Melodie knew nothing of the disease and it was only when both mother and child contracted blisters that she returned to the clinic where her positive status was confirmed. She called on the Church for greater commitment to ends AIDS as a matter of Justice. It is sobering to reflect that 75% of all new infections are in adolescent girls. It was very disappointing that no Zambian data was available as the local CDC had not responded with an agreement

IMG_1354It was also good to meet up with Church of Scotland colleagues and partners  who were there; Rev Aftab Gohar from Grangemouth and Rev Daniel  Ganizane from Mozambique.

This was echoed on Sunday in Rev Phumzile’s Mabizela’s closing speech where she asked us to recommit ourselves in the face of AIDS-fatigue keeping in the fast lane, bringing to mind the verse from Galatians 6:9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up and in line with the WCC Central Committee Tronheim call to see God in the weak, vulnerable and marginalised and speaking with those suffering poverty injustice exclusion, stigma and discrimination. It is difficult to help empower communities and address their challenges and needs while having to follow the rules laid down by donors.

Ensuring testing and treatment for children was an important target to set. Youth, IMG_1388adolescents, women and girls are vulnerable groups at present. The role of the home, family and Church family was emphasized in tackling stigma. Churches should be safe places that encourage inter-generational  and intersectional conversations. Topics for discussion should include sex, sexuality, gender and violence. Youth sensitive clinics for sex education and information were also a necessity in the struggle to attain an AIDS-free generation. Though in all of this where are the men? There is a lack of balance here and questions need to be asked about the socialisation of boys and young men who perpetuate gender-based violence.

On Sunday, Keith went with Rodney, our landlord, to his Church in Overpoort, the Conquering through Prayer Ministries International. It is a mainly a South Asian Church witnessing in a predominantly Muslim –area, meeting in a converted and modernised cinema. It was a lively time of praise and worship with the message from the Pastor, Clive Gopaul, who first planted the Church about 25 years ago and now has a congregation of around 5500 souls. A World Prayer Centre was opened by the denomination in 2000, which is open to all; it hosts an annual National Prayer Conference in July and a weekly School of Prayer meets there too. The encouragement is to make local churches praying churches and to equip members with necessary skills to be this.