World AIDS Day: A South African Experience

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During a visit to South Africa in May 2014, for a class−Faith and Politics in Collective Violence and Globalization, we visited a center called Ikageng Itireleng in Soweto. The center under the leadership of Mrs. Carol provides service and support to orphans, and vulnerable children including young people living with HIV/AIDS. Thus, Ikageng provides basic necessities and support for approximately 1000 orphaned and vulnerable children including food, clothing, school fees, psycho-social support, mentoring, and life skills training, health care, transportation, and most importantly love and emotional support every child needs. Many of the children live in child-headed households, where they are obligated to assume the role of parents and look after their younger siblings. Seeing a lot of orphaned innocent children dealing with the vagaries of human existential conditions was unsettling and quite traumatic to me and also to my colleagues as well.

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Ikageng’s founder’s act of responsibility for ensuring the well-being of the children is exemplary and her effort typifies what our collective responsibility to the less privileged members of our community should look like. Her work gives us a model of how we can collectively respond to structural or existential violence. Thus, it raises a fundamental question; “To what extent are faith communities’ help, or deterrence to the spread of HIV/AIDS?” This question is relevant especially, when we look at the silence around the topic of HIV/AIDS in our faith communities. What is said and what is left unsaid? Consequently, one is left to guesstimate how our responsiveness or non-responsiveness to this issue ultimately and globally impacts the spread of HIV/AIDS in the world.

At Ikageng, they opened up their pantry to us; but it was almost completely empty. Hence driving home for those of us who live in the United States that there are indeed hungry people in the world who do not have a clue where their next meal will come from. Seeing the empty pantry stirred in many of us the need to be more responsible public. The emptiness of the pantry spoke to deeper levels of human depravity which pervade our world. A most powerful image that we saw was when all the kids were given blankets to cover themselves since it was very cold at that time of the year in South Africa. All of the kids were given a blanket, all of them. According to one of the professors on the study trip, the blanket symbolizes God’s covering over vulnerable humanity in times of existential challenges. God’s covering is assured and extended to all those who put themselves under God’s purview of protection, just as the kids were assuredly under the purview of the protection of Ikageng.

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