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Hope Flourishes in ‘Cradle of AIDS’

By Lawrence W. Wilson
Wesleyan Publishing

CBN.comNalu spoke slowly, her voice choked with emotion. Standing before a group of American development workers, this young mother from Pemba, Zambia, recounted the story of her husband’s death, the debt her family had incurred, and the heart-rending decision she had made in order to feed her children. Beating herself with a clenched fist, she cried, “Against my own will, against my faith, I became a prostitute.”

With tears streaming down her thin face, she said, “AIDS kills in years. But hunger kills within days.” (1)

Nalu’s story illustrates the double victimization of the AIDS pandemic. The disease has killed tens of millions, leaving millions more vulnerable to poverty and exploitation.

In spite of the seemingly intractable nature of this problem, thousands of Zambian children and widows are gaining dignity and independence thanks to a new aid strategy that emphasizes economic development over relief.

An Insidious Problem

HIV/AIDS affects some 40 million people worldwide, (2) including over 476,000 people in the United States. (3) Young people are hardest hit by the epidemic, with half of new infections occurring in people aged 15–24. (4) Children are secondary victims of the pandemic; it is estimated that there will be 25 million AIDS orphans by the year 2010. (5) The number of infections in women continues to rise, in part due to gender inequality and sexual violence. Areas with high poverty rates are also heavily impacted by the virus. Aid workers in the country of Liberia have been accused of forcing girls as young as 8 years old to have sex with them in exchange for food. (6)

Sadly, many young people lack basic information on HIV/AIDS and the means to protect themselves, (7) often orphans are maltreated, (8) and often women are not given the access to HIV care and support they need. (9) In Liberia, for example, a country of 3.5 million people, only 26 doctors are registered to work. As a result, only 600 Liberians are able to receive treatment for HIV/AIDS. (10) Tens of thousands more go untreated. Women, youth (ages 15–24), orphans and people in poverty are gravely impacted, in need of prevention resources and training, economic empowerment and psycho-social support for themselves and their families. (11)

Yet here in Central Africa, often called the cradle of AIDS, hope is alive.

A New Model

At Muntuwabulongo Trust, some 38 miles outside Choma, 300 worshipers fill the air with the sound of singing. The Trust is home to over 170 AIDS orphans and vulnerable children, typical of central African communities; 13 percent of Zambian children are orphans. (12) The difference is that in this country where all poverty and development indicators have worsened in the past 10 years, (13) the children of Muntuwabulongo Trust are well fed and cared for. Partnering with a North American congregation to receive skills training and the distribution of subsistence supplies, 10 “caregivers” at have begun micro-businesses in goat rearing, vegetable gardening, and sewing. The project, created by Alexandria, Virginia,–based World Hope International, attacks the problem of AIDS by creating a healthy community.

The success of Muntuwabulongo in fighting AIDS lies in the strategy of pursuing economic development. Jo Anne Lyon, executive director of World Hope International, explains, “Economic development is a strategy that benefits the entire community. We aim to create income generating projects that provide a living for everyone, including widows and children. The ultimate goal is that the community becomes self-sustaining.” It’s working in Muntuwabulongo and 34 other trusts in Zambia, where over 7,000 people, including 3,665 children, receive support.

A Ray of Hope

Leadership training and education on sexual purity are second level services, which attack the AIDS problem by strengthening the individuals and communities. But the greatest asset created by the community development model may be the unseen benefit of increased self-esteem. The beauty of approach, according to Lyon, is that “The community gets involved in taking care of itself, rather than just pouring money on the problem.” The result is that people begin to think differently about themselves. Frevia Kaluba, a Zambian development worker, said, “When people have done something and they know they’ve done it themselves, that’s when dignity comes.”

Standing alongside visitors from her partner congregation in America, a Zambian woman, one of the Muntuwabulongo caregivers, gestured proudly to her vegetable garden. The project, which may have seemed modest to her American visitors, was a tremendous source of pride for this AIDS widow. “Before, I could not provide for my family,” she said. It was discouraging. I felt like a failure as a parent and it squeezed my heart. Now I can provide and my heart is lighter—I live like a normal woman now.”

More from Lawrence W. Wilson

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1. Jo Anne Lyon, The Ultimate Blessing: Rediscovering the Power of God’s Presence (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2003), 160.
2. UNAIDS/WHO (2004) Report on the global AIDS epidemic.
3. Centers for Disease Control, “HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report,” Vol. 17.
4. Risk and Protection: Youth and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Alan Guttmacher Institute On-line
5. UNAIDS, UNICEF, USAID “Children on the Brink 2004: A joint report of new orphan estimates and a framework for action.”
6. BBC News, “Sex for Aid Widespread,” May 8, 2006.
7. Risk and Protection: Youth and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Alan Guttmacher Institute On-line
8. UNAIDS, UNICEF, USAID “Children on the Brink 2004: A joint report of new orphan estimates and a framework for action.”
9. The New Face of AIDS (2004, November 25) The Economist.
10. Clinton Foundation, “Our Work in Africa,” July 18, 2006.
11. UNAIDS, UNICEF, USAID “Children on the Brink 2004: A joint report of new orphan estimates and a framework for action.”
12. ACTSA Briefing, August 2001, “On the front line: Zambia indebted for her anti-apartheid stance.”
13. ACTSA Briefing, August 2001, “On the front line: Zambia indebted for her anti-apartheid stance.”


Lawrence WilsonLawrence W. Wilson is an author, speaker, and editor who challenges people to think differently, consider new ideas, and apply truth to their lives. Larry is married to best-selling author Heather Gemmen Wilson.

An ordained minister and honors graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Larry is the author of When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Expect and Why Me? Straight Talk About Suffering. As editorial director for Wesleyan Publishing House, he has overseen the development of innovative Christian resources including the popular Lectio Divina Bible studies and the Wesleyan Bible Commentary Series. He speaks extensively on the subject of applying faith to life.

© Lawrence W. Wilson. Used with Permission.

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