Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Story of courage

Published in the Fiji Times "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I have just received the plot for a new DVD that is about to be released. It is in stark contrast to the film that I wrote about last week, with themes of oppression, injustice and man's inhumanity to man (or in this case woman). This DVD has themes of hope and life. The name of this DVD is Maiinga. It is a true story.

The plot: Marama wants a baby. She is single and HIV-positive and her status is making it tricky to undergo IVF in New Zealand.

Then on a training course for AIDS ambassadors, Marama meets Tony from PNG. Also HIV-positive, he's lost a wife and two children to AIDS.

He tells Marama he will have a baby with her, despite knowing her for only a day. What follows is a stranger-than-fiction story of two HIV-positive people who overcome the odds to start a family and then fall in love.

It's a story of courage in the face of stigma and discrimination, and the grace and power of God and whakapapa (family/ancestral tree).

Speaking to Marama Pala shared the struggle of an HIV positive woman who yearns for motherhood:

"I'd been told by my doctors I could have a baby and I was really, really wanting to have a baby. We discussed it. We went to a doctor and discussed the complications around it and found that because we were on the same medication, we couldn't infect each other because the medication was going to knock off whatever virus would infect each other, so we could actually have a child naturally. And we did. When Maiinga was born, she came early and we had to have a caesarean section, but we were told we could have had natural birth. She was born and went on medication for six weeks. She's been regularly tested and she's come back negative. So it's a second chance for him (husband Tony) and a second chance for me."

'Maiinga' is produced by the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation to raise awareness and understanding of our people on the issues related to HIV and AIDS, and to advocate for better treatment, care and support for all people (and their families) who become HIV-positive. It will be launched shortly in Fiji.

Meanwhile, Maire Bopp Dupont, the founder and CEO of the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation (PIAF) will be in Suva this week and is to meet with representatives of faith based (religious) organisations in Suva this Thursday.

The forum is being facilitated by UNICEF Pacific as a follow on to consultation on November 20, 2009, - International World Day of Prayer.

Members of the faith based organisations in Fiji requested UNICEF to create a platform where possible collaborations to improve the quality of life of Pacific people could be discussed.

The convening of this forum comes as a similar multi-faith meeting on the eve of the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna has heard calls for faith communities to keep commitments they have made to promote universal access to HIV treatment, care, support and prevention.

"This has to do with a basic issue of justice, not at least gender justice," the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said in an address to the July 17 multi-faith conference at Vienna's Technical University.

The conference gathered more than 250 people, including leaders of religious groups, networks of people living with HIV and international organizations, under the theme, "Rights Here, Right Now: What's faith got to do with it?"

Leadership by faith communities in the struggle against HIV and AIDS, "doesn't come just like that", said Hany El Banna, the Egyptian-born founder and former president of Islamic Relief.

"It comes with responsibility."

Faith communities, he said, are able to mobilize people at the "grass roots", in mosques, churches, synagogues and temples.

"We shouldn't be afraid of religion," El Banna stated.

"We should be afraid of ignorance and a lack of knowledge."

Jan Beagle, the deputy director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, said faith communities can help bridge a "disconnect" between the scientific world and the world of culture, religion and communities.

"We are not asking religious leaders to hand out condoms, unless that is acceptable within your traditions, but to partner with us in approaches to HIV prevention education, health care and referral," she said.

World Council of Churches general secretary Tveit in his address said faith leaders need to exercise care in the way they use religious language and writings.

This means, "not only being accountable about what pieces of our faith texts we quote but how we use these text".

The multi-faith conference began with songs from the Zimbabwean Betseranai Choir, made up of about 20 people living with HIV, which uses music and songs to mobilise people in the struggle against AIDS.

The conference was organized by a multi-faith working group convened by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an international network of churches and church-related organizations.

"The world expects people of faith to be working together, said Richard Fee, the alliance's chairperson.

"We have recognized that and it is time we started doing that."

If your faith community is interested in working with others on the issue of HIV and AIDS and you would like to send a representative to the forum on Thursday, please contact Donna Hoerder of UNICEF Pacific on 3300 439.

"Be Still, stand in love and pay attention."

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Mr J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

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