SOCIAL GOOD: Behind AIDS – Perspectives from Canada and Tanzania

SOCIAL GOOD: Behind AIDS – Perspectives from Canada and Tanzania

nancy sumari and alison fraser

I am by no means an expert on HIV or AIDS. In fact, other than knowing some basic statistics and facts on transmission, I have never really given much thought to the social implications of living with the virus.  This wasn’t intentional, but most likely the result of the small bubble in which I was living for most of my life; a bubble that did not include any friends or family directly affected by the virus. That all changed, last November, when I visited Arusha, Tanzania to meet some of the students in the Mom2Mom Africa Organization, a small not for profit that I founded several years before. I knew some of our students came from families in which some members were positive. Some were left orphaned by the disease. But what I didn’t realize was how this impacted these children in terms of treatment by their local community, regardless of their HIV status. I learned of children who were shunned by the church because the deaths of their parents was attributed to AIDS. I learned of other families shunned by their own relatives for the same reason. In some instances, the children were not even aware of why their parents died. It was hidden to protect them.

I left Tanzania with a heavy heart, but it was made heavier by the stories of the struggles of some of our students because of the AIDS pandemic. I had suspected that discrimination existed but I now had little faces associated with that discrimination haunting me, making it more real. Students are accepted into Mom2Mom Africa regardless of HIV status…I can think of operating no other way.  In fact, we only request medical information so we can provide the appropriate health care.

I was now beginning to understand that this virus was not only killing people, but leaving behind families to deal with the shameful treatment by society.

Our affected students not only required extra medical attention, but also more emotional support.

I began to wonder if those affected by HIV/AIDS in Canada feel the same degree of isolation. Did being HIV positive in Canada carry with it the same stigma as in Tanzania? I decided to find out. Speaking to the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo & Area (ACCKWA), I learned that, unfortunately, Canadians often face the same discrimination and stigma. Although laws are in place to help prevent discrimination, it still occurs. Many of those affected by HIV are judged, and often blamed for their HIV status. Thankfully, there are support groups such as the ACCKWA that provide a safe place and much-needed services to those living with HIV  in our local community.

After speaking to ACCKWA, I contacted my friend, and fellow World Moms Blog contributor, Nancy Sumari to discuss what support services are in place for those living with HIV, and their families, in Tanzania. Nancy is part of the “I am Positive” Campaign in Tanzania. The campaign was established in response to reports by those living with HIV of being discriminated against and, in some cases, being physically assaulted and emotionally abused because of their HIV status. The campaign has several main objectives, but the one that hit home the most was:

“To live with HIV/AIDS is NOT to live without human rights and dignity”.

The power of that message is not only incredible, but universal. Regardless of what country you live in, what part of the world you live in, and what your HIV status is, you have the right to basic human rights and to live with dignity. We ALL deserve this.

As I reflect on this past year, and what I have learned about the realities those living with HIV face each and every day, I can’t help but dream of a day when the stigma no longer exists; a day when judgement and discrimination are replaced with support and understanding.  Or better yet, I dream of a day when HIV and AIDS move from pandemic status to curable infection.  But, until then, I hope that empathy prevails for all those living with HIV, as well as for their families.

This is an original post written by Alison Fraser for World Moms Blog.

Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser is the mother of three young girls ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Alison works as an Environmental Toxicologist with a human environment consulting company and is an active member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). She is also the founder and director of the Canadian Not for Profit Organization, Mom2Mom Africa, which serves to fund the school fees of children and young women in rural Tanzania. Recently recognized and awarded a "Women of Waterloo Region" award, Alison is very involved in charitable events within her community including Christmas Toy and School Backpack Drives for the local foodbank.

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TANZANIA: Birthday Week Diaries

TANZANIA: Birthday Week Diaries

Nancy Sumari

I have a birthday this week. An occasion which would usually have me getting excited, prepping for a party or a date night. Or if it were my daughter or better half’s birthdays, you would find me really excited and organizing a party or some sort of celebration.

But this time around, for my birthday, it’s not working out as per usual. I don’t want a celebration or a party. I want something quiet and non obvious, like staying home all day and catching a movie afterwards.  Although it doesn’t look like that will happen if my girlfriends have anything to do with it.

By nature I’m a person who gets pretty excited. I’m known not to turn down a party. But for some reason, as I get older, I’m just not keen about celebrating getting older. Sometimes I can feel the clock ticking in my head, but that’s another story for another day.

A male colleague once asked, “What is with women and their age?” It got me thinking. What is it with women and their age?? For some women, even just asking their age is an unforgivable offense.

The sense of alarm and urgency that has overcome me lately is strange yet it has been happening with greater frequency.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that my daughter is growing up faster than I like. Or maybe it’s because I feel that there’s so much I still want to do right at the age I am. Not to mention that of course my body changing and witnessing it is not very desirable.

I suppose I should embrace it. Take it by the horns and “wonder-woman” style my way through these feelings? But how? How do I get excited when all I want is to do is stay in bed all day and not hear a word about my birthday?

Has anyone else ever gotten weary of growing a year older?

This is an original post by Nancy Sumari from Tanzania. You can find more of her writing at Mama Zuri.

Photo courtesy of the author.
TANZANIA: What Does “HOME” Even Mean

TANZANIA: What Does “HOME” Even Mean

home is welcoming

I was recently asked to be a part of the upcoming UNHCR World Refugee Day in my country. I was asked to put literally myself in the shoes of those individuals who have been forced out of their homes and countries, due primarily to conflicts. I was then invited to contribute my thoughts and feelings through a document that would be shared at a gathering on World Refugee Day.

As a mother, I feel that our primal instinct is to protect and nurture, but protection and nurturing that is coupled with nesting. To many of us, a nest may initially bring a picture of “a little bird and a couple of eggs” to mind but in my opinion, a nest brings to mind home. It means having a center, a base, headquarters, in short somewhere to come back to.

That got me thinking. What does this four-letter word, HOME, really mean? To some, not much, because for them it’s something easily taken for granted. To others, it’s a base. A place where you shower, change, nap and get back out there.  But, for a lot of people, it’s a residence, it’s family, it’s dignity, it’s freedom. Most importantly, it’s where the heart is. I probably can’t even count the amount of times that I’ve walked in and out of my home, the amount of time I’ve spent time in my home just hiding away from the world in a safe and comforting haven. A lot of those times, I have not really sat and looked around to soak it in and really see what it all means, and certainly not for me, but for my family, until now.

The thought of the loss of this base, this center, a center that helps us be centered, truly breaks my heart. So here I am, thinking about the 5 million people in Tanzania who are currently refugees without ‘A Home’. My heart breaks to think about what that means for the 48% of refugees who are children. I am empathizing with them but also in awe of them all. In awe of their strength. In awe of their resilience.

I wish for a day when every person in this world will have a physical home to house the home each of us carries with us in our hearts.

What does home mean for you?

This is an original post by Nancy Sumari from Tanzania. You can find more of her writing at Mama Zuri.

Photo Credit to Susie Newday.

TANZANIA: Haves & Have Nots

TANZANIA: Haves & Have Nots

girl on iPad

Living in a developing country and being blessed enough to be able to work, provide for your family and get by, is considered lucky.

In Tanzania people are considered poor when their consumption is below than the national poverty line. Consumption includes all goods that are bought, as well as those produced and consumed at home. This includes food, household equipment, clothing, personal effects, personal care, recreation, cleaning, domestic services, contributions, fuel, petrol and soap.

Over the years, I have always had a sense of responsibility and felt the urgency to work towards bridging gaps in poverty, through advocating for education and engaging in activities, big and small, in sectors like health and social change in an attempt to bridge this gap.

After having my daughter, I understand the notion that every parent wants the very best for their child. It does not escape me how truly blessed we have been to be able to provide for her. What I’m struggling with now is excess, conservation as well as teaching her to understand that she really is no different than another young girl from the other side of town who does not have the luxury of being able to enjoy three healthy meals a day and who cannot afford to go to school. I hope to be able to awaken this sense of responsibility towards poverty and the gaps in society in my daughter.

One evening, I came home after a visit to a school in Dodoma, the country’s capital, where I had been working to raise funds for building a girls’ hostel. These students were going through horrors every day; from 16 kilometer walks to and from school, to living in deplorable conditions, to being subject to burglary and rape. It was really weighing in on me.

I walked in to find my younger brother and my daughter watching TV with the sound on really loud. She was playing a game on the iPad and lights were on all around the house. Excess.  They had just had dinner and both seemed to be almost just laying there. or me that was a turning point. Things had to change. Scaling down was imminent.

High on our agenda these days is use of only what we need. Above all is practicing gratitude. When she is old enough to understand, I will introduce her to the reality of the way things are in the world.

It really strikes me though, time and time again,  just how different lives are. Not to bite the hand that feeds me, but it seems almost unfair that some have so much while others have so little. What makes us special to be the “Haves” and them the “Have Nots”?

My struggle these days is just to try and get it.

What are your thoughts? How do you teach your kids about giving back?

This is an original post by Nancy Sumari from Tanzania. You can find more of her writing at Mama Zuri.

Photo credit to Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Tanzania: My “One Child” Policy

Tanzania: My “One Child” Policy

Nancy Sumari
I grew up in a family of five children, with a year and a half between each child. I remember our household always feeling crowded, and, of course, privacy was unheard of.

The fact that we were three sisters meant that hand me downs and sharing clothing was a huge part of life, and it also meant that I did not always get to enjoy and appreciate my favorite shirt or shoes long enough. Let’s not even mention how much fighting went on. We basically disagreed on and fought over everything! When I think of how much noise and bickering went on, my head starts spinning.

We were five siblings. I often repeat those words in my head just so that I can try to understand exactly how my parents managed to work long hours to provide for us and raise us. They did this all while still managing to maintain good relationships with all of us.

It was always hard for me to wrap my head around how they handled it all, and, therefore, I ended up never wanting a big family.

Every time I say that to someone, who (impolitely) asks if I’m thinking of having a second child, I get gasps and shocking looks. In many of our African and especially Tanzanian families, having and being happy with just one child is rather strange.  “Why?” “Are you sure?” “Won’t she be lonely?”  Are some of the many questions that come flying at me.

The truth is, I am happy. Yes, with just only one child. It works for us, we are happy, and having a grand time. I am managing perfectly, meshing my schedule with hers. I feel that I’m able to give the best of myself to motherhood this way and in this space.  At least in the meantime, that is. I don’t doubt that in the foreseeable future she will start asking for a sibling. *Laughs*

I must say, though, that I do worry. Is it easier to spoil a child if it’s just her? What about narcissism? Is she more susceptible to it because she is often all on her own? What about being a loner? I even worry about the difference it would make in our relationship if, in fact, I do have a second baby.  *Crazy mom talking*

How many children do you have? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having only one child?

This is an original post by Nancy Sumari from Tanzania. You can find more of her writing at Mama Zuri.

Photo credit to the author.