By Sharon Slater
In October of 2003, United Families International President, Sharon Slater, spent six weeks in Mozambique, Africa attempting to finalize the adoption of three African AIDS orphans. Meridian readers were introduced to the children’s older brother, Rogerio this week. Sister Slater shares some observations from her journal on the devastating AIDS problem facing the continent of Africa and describes an amazing program of hope that is saving thousands of lives.
click photos to enlarge
“I have been living now for five weeks in the poorest province in one of the poorest countries of the world, working to adopt three children I have come to love, Luis (age12), Amelia (age 10), and Afonso (age 6). The longer I stay the more it becomes apparent that something is very wrong in Africa. Two years ago the children’s father died from “prolonged illness,” a euphemism commonly used for AIDS. Surprisingly, on their mother’s death certificate, the cause of death was listed as AIDS. I have learned it is a very rare occurrence to see an official diagnosis of AIDS. Those who contract AIDS are so stigmatized that most people avoid diagnosis, and will even refuse treatment in order to keep their illness a secret.
“Once someone is diagnosed with AIDS they are usually abandoned by all family and friends and left to fend for themselves. The children I am adopting were abandoned by relatives when their mother died.
“The children’s older brother Rogerio returned early from his mission and is in an advanced stage of AIDS. Family members that are caring for him do not even know he is infected. In addition to AIDS, Rogerio has a form of cancer, which has caused his face and ankles to swell; he has lumps all over his body, and is being treated for tuberculosis. Most the time he has intense pain and every day he suffers more. He can barely speak and his body is slowly wasting away.
“It is not pretty to watch someone slowly die from AIDS. When I first met Rogerio he was such a strong, vibrant and promising young man preparing to go on a mission. We had been very impressed with him and wanted to help his situation. Little did either of us know at the time we decided to adopt his two younger brothers and sister that he had HIV and would very soon develop full blown AIDS and become completely incapacitated. Six months ago he was given six months to live. We are not sure how long he will last. (Rogerio has now passed away. Click here to read more)
“Last week a young woman here asked me how old I was. I laughed and said I preferred not to tell my age. She scolded me sternly exclaiming, “Sharon, every day of your life is a gift. It is a privilege to grow old. Many people here do not live past 30. You should be grateful for every day of life that God gives you.”
“I experienced a paradigm shift. At that moment I realized that adopting these children could literally be adding forty, fifty, even sixty years to their lives.”
Why Are They Dying?
“So what is wrong? Why are so many millions of people dying from AIDS?
“Sex in Mozambique is considered by many to be a game–a recreational activity. When asked about sex, the people laugh. It is expected that men will have several partners, or wives and women will become pregnant at an early age. A hired driver leaned over to me and bragged, “You know I have two women at home,” as if this would some how impress me. Here, infidelity and promiscuity is considered the norm.
“Last night, Amelia showed me the new AIDS booklet she got from school. I was shocked at the sexually explicit information. Afonso looked over my shoulder and pointed to a picture of a female condom and asked me what it was. I quickly closed the book and waited until he fell asleep and then continued reading to see what Africa thinks ten-year-olds should be taught in school.
“The booklet explains in detail the mechanics of various sex acts, including graphic depictions which are highly inappropriate for children. Programs such as this are rampant throughout Mozambique and many of them are funded by the U.S. or by the United Nations.
“Africans are not being told the truth. Billions of dollars have been poured into Africa to promote “safe sex,” the most deceptive term of all time, which rather than eradicating AIDS, is actually helping to spread the disease that has killed more people than all the wars put together. Governments, NGOs, international and national organizations, the United Nations and U.S. agencies have conducted massive safe sex campaigns that have contributed to the sexualization of children, teens, and adults who are mislead to believe that all sex is safe with a condom. In order to promote “safe sex,” children are taught at an early age everything they possibly could want to know about the mechanics of sex, including masturbation, oral, anal, and homosexual sex.
“Fearing that people will not use condoms if they do not believe they are foolproof, facts and studies showing that condoms have failure rates are kept from the public. Those who are sexually active, and use condoms are playing Russian Roulette and they don’t even know it. One out of ten sexual acts can end up in condom failure. And since you cannot tell by looking at someone if they are HIV positive or if they are carrying one or more of a myriad of sexually transmitted diseases, those who are infected continue to infect others, convinced that with a condom, they and their partners are safe.
“Ironically, as we took Rogerio to the hospital to be treated, we were bombarded by brightly painted murals depicting naked couples, embracing each other and extolling condom use. Everywhere I look in Mozambique, painted on the buses, on the buildings, all over the hospital, and in government offices, there are messages about sex–most extolling the virtue of the condom. On a bus there is a picture of a soccer ball with the slogan, “Play safe, use a condom.”
“The message being fed to the African people by the international community is literally killing them. Not in one instance have I seen any information here about condom failure rates. Nowhere do I see information on how people should deal with their sexual relationships when they cannot afford to buy condoms. Nowhere do I see public information on all the sexually transmitted diseases that are not prevented by condom use.”
Stemming the Tide
Decisions regarding one’s sexual lifestyle in Africa, do not just carry moral implications, but can be life or death choices. If the AIDS epidemic is to be stemmed, it will only be done through the promotion of abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage. Studies in Africa show that the only significant reductions in HIV/AIDS infection were in Uganda where abstinence has been extensively promoted.
Can you imagine what could happen if somehow we were able to strike at the root of this epidemic and teach an entire generation of African children before they become sexually active the truth about “safe sex,” AIDS and abstinence? What would happen if the rising generation was taught that happiness can be found in families where husbands and wives are faithful and teach their children to wait until they are married to express their love through sexual activity?
What if United Families commissioned a BYU professor with a background in child development to develop a phenomenal program that would teach principles of choices and consequences, personal responsibility, integrity, service, delayed gratification and more?
What if this program was field tested by Africans for over two years and was adapted to their culture, language and customs?
What if the kids loved the program and embraced the message and developed African songs and skits to celebrate it?
What if this program was enthusiastically received by African government leaders, school administrators, parents, teachers and students wherever it was introduced?
What if we were able to gather the resources to teach this five year program at a minimal cost by training existing African school teachers to implement the program?
What if the parents learned these principles and truths along with their children? In fact, what if that was a required part of the program?
Could you imagine the impact on these children and future generations, not to mention the countless lives that would be saved?
What I have just described is the Stay Alive HIV/AIDS prevention education program written by BYU Professor Wendy Sheffield, developed by United Families International. It has been so well received that we cannot keep up with the demand. A few weeks ago we received a letter from the First Lady of Zambia who asked that we bring the program to 1.4 million children. Recently the Stay Alive program was enthusiastically received by a conference of Ministers of Education from 16 African Nations. And we have received official requests from several additional African countries to bring Stay Alive to their children.
Our short term goal is to reach over two million children in 2004 with Stay Alive. Our five-year goal is to reach over 34 million children. The only thing standing in the way is the funding for the manuals. Hundreds of African returned missionaries have been trained to teach the Stay Alive program to school administrators and are just waiting for us to raise more money for the manuals.
Last year over 350,000 school children in Kenya, as well as thousands of children in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda, and Swaziland received Stay Alive I. For less than fifty cents an African child can receive the complete Stay Alive program for their age level. No one profits financially from the Stay Alive program. All donations go directly to the program.
Even more exciting, the United States Omnibus Bill which just passed Congress recognized Stay Alive and sent specific instructions to the U.S. government agency over President Bush’s multibillion dollar AIDS initiative to consider funding Stay Alive.
However, most government grants are contingent on a percentage of funding from the receiving organization. Thus, we are urgently seeking to raise funds for the Stay Alive program so that we will qualify to receive a major grant from USAID to implement our five-year Stay Alive plan. You can help us save hundreds of lives through the direct teaching of the principle based lifesaving Stay Alive program.
To make a donation go to www.unitedfamilies.org. You can contribute online or use the printable mail-in form. To make sure your donation is dedicated to the Stay Alive program make sure your contribution ends in .01. For example $5.01, or $50.01. Contributions of any amount can make a huge difference in the lives of children. For more information please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our offices at (480) 632-5450.
United Families International (UFI) is a nonprofit, nondenominational organization dedicated to promoting the family as the fundamental unit of society at the local, national, and international level. UFI promotes respect for marriage, life, religion, parental rights and national sovereignty.
As a nongovernmental organization with official ECOSOC status at the United Nations, UFI works closely with UN Ambassadors and delegates to promote pro-family policies in UN documents. For more information or to become a member of United Families International and receive our quarterly newsletter, please go to our website at www.unitedfamilies.org or call our office in Arizona at (480) 632-5450