On Saturday, March 22, 2014, the first centre for those living with AIDS in Karamoja, Uganda, was opened in Moroto. This will be the place for the many activities of Choose Life. Here the Volunteers will meet to report on their visits to clients in various parts of Moroto and the nearby villages, and to discuss how to help those who are not doing well. Here the educators will meet to plan their visits to the schools which have children whose parents are HIV+; and here, too, they will meet the children after school to help them keep up with their school work. The tailoring group of clients (a particularly poor and needy group) will meet at the centre every day to earn a little money making uniforms and bead bracelets and necklaces, and to have lunch. From here our Sisters will go to visit HIV patients in Moroto Hospital, most of whom are in the TB ward. Here in the Centre there will be also a monthly General Clients Meeting wherein clients share on and discuss relevant topics, such as stigma, anti-retroviral medicines (how they work), family problems due to being HIV+, alcohol abuse etc. Now, at last, there is a completely private room for counseling which will in time be put to good use.
Choose Life Centre was active from very early in the morning of March 22nd with last minute decorating and first preparations for a meal for 300. There was a remarkable spirit of joy and collaboration. 15 clients worked happily and harmoniously with Sarah Kakai (a nurse in Moroto Hospital) in the kitchen. The educators (young men who have finished high school) carried furniture, climbed double-tiered benches to reach high places for decorating, went to town on errands and kept the younger School of Life children in order. The bigger children formed a choir under the direction of Sarah Korobe, an alumna of Kangole Girls Senior Secondary School, a talented musician, who in 4 days of after-school practice produced some lovely songs and hymns.
The celebration began with the Eucharist at 10.00, with Fr. Charles Omenya as main celebrant, assisted by Bishop Henry Ssentongo. Fr. Charles spoke on the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, pointing out that the father of the prodigal ran to meet his son and did not condemn him and that this must be our attitude to those whom we are tempted to condemn, like those with AIDS. Our God is a God of compassion with open arms ready to embrace us. He came for sinners, for the sick, not for those who do not think they need healing. Father’s clear, strong voice and joy in being with old friends captured everyone. At the prayers of the faithful one representative from each category – School of Life, clients, educators, volunteers, BOG and Sacred Heart Sisters prayed for God’s guidance and grace to carry out their work well.
Then came the blessing of Choose Life Centre by Bishop Henry Ssentongo, which he led in a very spontaneous way with improvised singing and a lovely word in Akarimojong and English. While he blessed the building and each and every room copiously with holy water, the children sang “On This House Your Blessing, Lord”, which Sarah had taught them the evening before. Up to now we had all been ducking under the broad ribbons across every opening, but now all the guests were asked to go outside the gate. Bishop Henry then cut the ribbon at the gate and the guests poured in, accompanied by the ululations and dancing and leaps of joy of clients, children, educators and Sisters. The Bishop unveiled a lovely plaque saying that the Choose Life, HBC Centre had been funded by Misereor and built by Cooperation and Development. Then the ribbon cutting continued until every door was open to entrance without ducking!
After this exciting event we sat down again and listened to a dialogue among five of the children about what the School of Life project meant to them. Then Apolot, a volunteer, explained what home visits were like; Charles, an educator, told us what their work with the children entailed; Sarah Kakai, a nurse, described the essential role played by the hospital. Finally Christine, mother of 3 children, described her own experience of lying in hospital near death, having already lost her baby, and calling to Sr. Itae and Sr. Paulina who were visiting to come and pray for her. They did and gave her courage to choose life and become a core member of the Home Based Care community. This moment of choice lived by Christine, echoing the choice Moses called his people to in Exodus 30: 19, underlies our whole ministry to these rejected people. They can live again if they commit themselves seriously to adhere to the medication, keep away from alcohol and from infecting other people and if they can manage to eat at least one good meal a day. Often it is their faith that ‘God is there’ that enables them to make the choice and stay with it as Christine has done.
After this the children produced a lovely song and dance number called “Alakara Jesu”, (“Thank you Jesus”) with expert drumming by Sarah Korobe. They also sang a thank you song to all those who helped to build the Centre, above all Giorgio, the director of "Cooperation and Development." The music was so infectious that once again everyone got into the act and it became a chaotic symphony in red. (All the clients and children, volunteers and educators and Sisters were wearing their red CHOOSE LIFE HBC T-shirts).
Once again we settled down and listened to the closing words of Sr.Hilda Bamwine rscj, our Provincial and Guest of Honour. Srs. Hilda and Secondina rscj had come from Kampala to represent the rest of the Province and be with us. Hilda stressed the need for the people of Moroto to support this Home Based Care Centre now that they have it. After this we were invited to the meal which had been prepared with love and joy. It began with the cutting of a huge cake baked and artistically decorated for us by Juliana of "Cooperation and Development." Sr. Itae cut it up into small morsels but there was havoc when it reached the children as greed overcame good manners momentarily. Finally Fr. Charles said the grace and thus the Eucharistic sharing of the Bread of Life, which began our celebration, led us to the sharing of food and friendship which ended it.
Account prepared by Margie Conroy rscj
Photos taken by Maria Eugenia Herrera (Itae) rscj
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