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Stretching Beyond the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Church’s Innovative Response to AIDS in Africa

Pan African Christian AIDS Network (PACANet) USA hosted its first international conference at Marymount University Ballston Campus in Arlington, Virginia on Saturday, September 10, 2011, which was preceded by M&E and fundraising workshops on September 9th. There were four categories of participants in the conference:

  1. Representatives of the PACANet Africa Secretariat including the Rev. Edward Baralemwa, Executive Secretary and his staff;
  2.  Senior representatives of each of the six PACANet African countries—Burkina Faso, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Uganda ;
  3. USA-based Clergy and (4) Representatives of the donor community.

By the end of the September 10th conference, participants were expected to have: 1. Shared their achievements and challenges of their work in the field; 2. Identified and explored current resources for AIDS programming in Africa; and 3. Identified and established communication with potential partners/donors to strengthen and advance PACANet Africa’s response to HIV/AIDS in Africa. 4. Began new relationships with US base churches in the Baltimore/Washington metro areas.

The conference was extremely important because according to the 2010 UNAIDS Report, Africa has about 7% of the world’s population but is carrying over 70% of the world’s HIV/AIDS burden. Despite this fact and the fact that HIV/AIDS infection rates range from under 2% to 33% of the population in some African countries, there are heroic, innovative programs underway to reverse this reality and prevent this disease from causing more devastation on the continent. We were privileged to have in attendance PACANet Africa representatives who are on the front line in their respective countries to prevent HIV/AIDS and bring relief to those who are infected and affected by this dreadful disease.

The conference was opened by Rev. Jewel Kelly who awakened our spirits to scripture and prayer followed by a beautiful song she wrote called “Love” for the children of Haiti after the earthquake. Her voice and song moved most of the participants to tears of joy and worship. She is from Temple of Praise in Washington, DC. Regina Jefferson from the Washington, DC Health Department, HIV/AIDS Administration served as a vibrant moderator for the conference. She introduced the morning keynote speaker, Rev.Mankekolo Mahlangu-Ngcobo from Life Restoration Ministry who gave a dynamic address on the unique Christian response to HIV/AIDS, the responsibility of church leaders to speak truth to power in relationship to the allocation of HIV/AIDS funding and the need for each church to have an HIV/AIDS Ministry. Rev. Mahlangu-Ngcobo was followed by an overview of PACANet Africa by Rev. Edward Baralemwa who during the previous evening at the Oakseed Ministries’ 19th Annual Celebration Banquet at the McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia shared the genesis of his Christian walk, a glimpse of his vision for PACANet Africa and its future.

The second half of the morning was devoted to the reports of the six Country Christian AIDS Networks (CCANets) representatives on their accomplishments, challenges and needs at the field level. A discussion of their reports occurred after the lunch break. Some of the lessons learned were:

  1. A cookie cutter or one size fits all approaches do not work in the African context. Each CCANet had to experiment and discover what HIV/AIDS prevention strategies worked in their respective countries.
  2. Pastors should be trained and equipped to provide HIV/AIDS prevention leadership from the pulpit and in the community. Training in general should focus on capacity building of the lay and church leaders.
  3. There are things churches can do that don’t require a lot of money e.g., train congregants to be peer educators, community outreach/education by peer educators to change perceptions and attitudes toward people who are living with AIDS. This most often lead to the reduction of stigma and discrimination at least at the community level.
  4. The mass media particularly community radio can be an effective educational tool.
  5. Laws are needed to protect at-risk groups, e.g. people living with AIDS and teens—particularly girls who are victimized by sugar daddies.
  6. There is a need to establish effective and efficient communication between CCANets (please note that there should not be space between the ‘CCANets’) to share best practices and solutions to similar challenges.
  7. Monitoring and evaluation should be an intimate part of all HIV/AIDS prevention programs and activities. Community-based groups who receive government and other sources of funding are increasingly being asked to show that programs are having a positive impact on individuals receiving services and on the community.

Major donors and potential collaborators were invited to inform CCANets how to access available funding, to strengthen and in some cases establish communication between these entities. All of the invited donors/panelists attended: Mr. Tom Walsh (PEPFAR/Global Health), Mr. Quentin Wodon, (World Bank), Ms. Nancy Harris (John Snow), Rev. Dr. Pauline Muchina (UNAIDS) and Dr. Edward Green (The New Paradigm Fund).

The keynote closing address was given by Rev. Deborah Hickman from City Temple of Baltimore Baptist Church. She gave an electrifying sermon which focused on the churches response to AIDS in the USA and in Africa.

The closing prayer and benediction was offered by Overseer Edwon D. Brown from Refuge Baptist Assembly in Beltsville, Maryland. Rev. Rodney Glover of First Baptist Church, Highland Park was in attendance the entire day. Other churches that played a significant role in hosting the representatives from Africa were: The Omega Worship Center in Washington, DC, The church of the Living God in Hyattsville, Maryland, St. Johns Baptist Church, Columbia, Maryland, The Church of the Nativity-Cedarcroft, The Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC, The Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. After the conference, the international participants were hosted by families who were members of churches in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area before returning home. This was done to hopefully initiate collaboration between the CCANets and a US based church. PACANet USA is already in the process of planning the Second Annual Conference to celebrate PACANet’s 10th anniversary.

The day before the conference began, a half day workshop on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) was facilitated by Dr. Nkossi Dambito of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. John Snow Incorporated, a potential funder, conducted a workshop on fundraising at the end of the conference.