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Three Board members and the Executive Director PACANet –USA were invited by the Executive Secretary of PACANet Africa to attend the PACANet Africa General Assembly and the PRE-ICASA Conference (International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa) from November 29-December 2,2011 at the Desalegn Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The General Assembly meeting was very illuminating to the PACANet-USA board members.
PACANet-USA Attends PRE-ICASA in Ethiopia, Africa
The Chairman, David Kabiswa, of PACANet Africa’s Board of Directors welcomed everyone to the General Assembly meeting. His comments centered on sustainability for the CCANets by PACANet Africa and taking the organization to the next level. Rev. Edward Baralemwa, the Executive Secretary followed this thought by stating that there are issues which PACANet Africa has to address within the six countries where there are CCANets. CCANets must catch the vision of PACANet Africa and work toward self-sustainability. Some CCANet representatives commented that they are not ready to be independent. They still need resources (i.e. computers and technological support, some salary for services and some assistance in doing formal presentations and publications). Some challenges and complexities were noted as they relate to English speaking and French speaking countries. One of the main weaknesses noted was advocacy and getting to the root causes of HIV/AIDS. The challenge is to get the churches to be more visible. In conclusion PACANet Africa agreed to put forth a goal to include steps and objectives for the CCANets to meet. These include a framework on how the CCANets will work, on clarifying the role of CCANets to serve others, and on identifying what skills are available within each organization. Treasurer’s report and election of new officers concluded the day.
The energy levels were high with anticipation of new and exciting information shared on day one of the PRE-ICASA Conference titled “Accelerating a Grassroots Church Movement for a Sustainable HIV and AIDS Response”. The conference was supported by European sponsors (SIDA, SPCM, NORAD, Danish Mission) Also noted for their support were Ethiopian Orthorodox Tewahedo Church, Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia, and Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat. Pastor Awasum led the devotional period with scriptures regarding fellowship and discipleship. “When you are chosen, you leave everything of the world behind, you are committed, and you become a good follower. God has given us what we need to resolve this HIV problem” were his words. Some 150 representatives were present from 30 countries including Denmark, USA, UK, and Thailand with the remainder from African countries.
After the formalities of an opening conference, Dr. Raphael Avomyo from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana gave an historical recount of the Christian to HIV and AIDS which put the Christian response for today into perspective. There were nine “S’s” noted that has hindered the churches’ response to HIV/AIDS. They were silence, sexuality, sinners, stigma, slow to respond, sexual freedom, sustainability, stewardship, and self-evaluation. The question goes to church competence in pastoral care and in preaching. Do I know enough about HIV and AIDS to educate my congregation was a salient statement in his presentation regarding the clergy’s competence on HIV and AIDS. The next big question addressed by Bishop Joshua Banda from Zambia was the seriousness of dwindling resources. Although there were many presentations following his address, the essence of dwindling funds permeated throughout the conference. How will we sustain the Country Christian AIDS Networks and continue to reach those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Sustainability and capacity building were main themes heard throughout the two days of presentations. The church has the resources for spreading the gospel, why not include or provide HIV/AIDS and other health information to the congregation was suggested. The partnership of churches with businesses was also suggested. Churches in Africa will have to look at skills, talents, and resources within their congregation and within their communities for sustainability. In some areas the congregations are quite poor but there may be valuable human resource where those in the church can be trained to do program work. We heard reports from the Country Christian AIDS Network representatives in Liberia, Uganda, Burkina, Swaziland and Sierra Leone. They informed us of the work they are doing and some of the challenges. The churches still have the concern for losing members if they mainstream HIV education at the congregational level; however, the same action may reduce stigma. People need deliverance from stigma and to know who they are in Christ.
Some other comments the following day addressed the continuum of care. Churches are everywhere, in the most remote village there is a church and the people listen to their pastor. The church in preaching the message can put into practice mercy, compassion, promote disclosure and acceptance, and discourage gossip. The pastors can set an example by being tested in front of the congregation, and follow up with routine testing and counseling for the congregation. The church can pay more attention to those at highest risk, do nutrition education, do nutrition with ART medication education, and do mother to child education. Religion and science are not separate. WE NEED A PARADIGN SHIFF. This would include capacity building for church leaders, looking at congregations for sustainability using a more comprehensive approach, churches doing more preventive care and churches focusing on partnerships with businesses. The church leaders have to teach and learn forgiveness, be ready to learn HIV prevention and care, and be ready to learn advocacy. Most programs are for women and children, but we must move to include men in the new models. There was agreement that the church and the CCANets need to improve their documentation and reporting. They must learn and do more monitoring and evaluation, professional research and reporting in order to gain support for their important work in the communities.
In conclusion, it was noted that God does not like messy business. The need is for more accountability, church leaders as well as congregations trained. Integrate faith base and church presentations into other conferences and exhibit more to show case what we do. Use the media and bring a unique message of hope. Get senior leaders involved and ‘don’t forget who we are in Christ”.
The conference ended with a closing ceremony and dinner. We were entertained by music and dance by Ethiopian theological students. Pastor Awasum gave a wonderful closing sermon to guide all of us for the future work in Africa. The Ethiopian clergy representatives thanked the planning committee and Rev. Edward Baralemwa for the thought provoking and productive conference.
The meeting allowed these board members to gain a better understanding of the operation of PACANet Africa and the relationship between the central office in Kampala, Uganda and the CCANETs (Country Christian AIDS Networks). Pastor Toby Awasum, the newest member to the PACANet-USA Board led the devotional periods. He cited several scriptures to underscore his comments. He spoke of God’s faithfulness and our Christian focus of coming together and joining hands with others who are doing HIV work. He stated: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. He further added that everything he touches in obedience to God comes to be in a positive way and prayers are answered right away. This was very inspiring and encouraging to set the tone for the day.
Toby Awasum, Rose Nesbitt, Clarence Hall, Lenora Davis