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HIV Victims Tell Their Story

New Life Christian Center in Turlock is hosting the "AIDS -- Step into Africa" exhibit. It includes a replica of an African village and tells the stories of four real children who have been affected by the AIDS pandemic there. Various photographs of AIDS-affected families and children can be seen throughout the tour.
New Life Christian Center in Turlock is hosting the "AIDS -- Step into Africa" exhibit. It includes a replica of an African village and tells the stories of four real children who have been affected by the AIDS pandemic there. Various photographs of AIDS-affected families and children can be seen throughout the tour. Modesto Bee

TURLOCK -- As you push aside the curtain, you hear the story of Babirye, a girl in Uganda with a twin sister and a father who fishes with other men in the village.

Go through two more curtained areas, then a wood slat doorway as you hear of her father's death from AIDS and how the deadly disease was brought to the village. Her mother develops the symptoms and is taken away by a relative, leaving the girls to fend for themselves. Children in Babirye's school are mean, mocking her for the open sores on her arms and the many times she has to miss school because of illness.

Good news -- her mother returns and is the first in the village to take the antiretroviral medicine, then ministers to others with the virus. Bad news -- Babirye is taken to a clinic, where she finds out she is positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

For a moment, you look at the red plus sign stamped on your hand -- the symbol for HIV -- and become Babirye. It feels devastating. An encouraging voice says God will always be with you.

It's all part of "AIDS -- Step Into Africa," a traveling exhibit on display through Tuesday at New Life Christian Center. Visitors to the free exhibit put on earphones and hear one of four true stories of children in sub-Saharan Africa, a region hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. About two-thirds of the people infected with HIV worldwide live there.

World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization that helps the world's poor regardless of their religion, ethnicity or gender, hopes visitors will get a better picture of life for children in Africa.

"It was a very moving experience. I knew about the problems, but I didn't know the depth of the struggle," said Ed Jackson, a Modestan who toured the exhibit Friday.

"I wanted to find out more about it," said Lonnie Miller of Waterford, who was there with his wife, Donnie. "Besides the obvious pain is the lack of hope."

The Millers picked a World Vision child to sponsor.

"The child we sponsored looks like he needs some hope," Donnie Miller said.

The church and others in the community hosting the event requested that all children available for sponsorship at this stop of the tour come from one village in Africa. Sponsors send a monthly donation that helps pay for a child's schooling, clothes and food, as well as for community projects, such as wells.

There are other opportunities for visitors. For example, for $20, you can select the materials that go into a Caregivers Kit for African AIDS workers, items such as a notebook, examination gloves, soap, washcloths, cotton balls, a fever reducer, anti-fungal ointment and anti-diarrhea medication.

"As a nurse, I love that these little orange suitcases keep the materials clean," said Dixie Long, a Keyes resident who was manning the kit station.

For $155, you can send a sturdy bike and a kit. For $100, you can help build a well. For $50, you can help feed children affected by AIDS.

Besides the financial gifts, the walking tour takes guests into a candlelit chapel, with photos of people in Africa, many of whom have died of AIDS. Participants are encouraged to pick up a photo of a child and pray for him or her.

The last wall before the sponsorship photos and exit is a prayer wall, filling up with written notes:

"I cannot begin to understand what these people are going through, but I hope my prayers will help at least one of them."

"Oh Lord, protect Tlotliso. Keep him safe."

"Dear Lord, I pray for Keneuoe, that she is able to live a long and fruitful life and that she stays healthy."

"Lord, impress on my heart a desire to help meet the needs of the helpless in our world, and show me how to translate that into action."

After you finish the tour, you are allowed to get a new headset and go through a different part of the exhibit, hearing another child's story.

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or snowicki@modbee.com.

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