An interview with Mozambican Artemisa Chiziane, activist at Project Dream
It is possible to turn to Africa with a look of hope. Dream proves this. Dream, the acronym for Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition, has been since 2002 the project of the Community of Sant'Egidio, for the treatment of AIDS in Africa. The dream is of a new vision for the continent, away from stereotypes and from afro-pessimism. This time excellence of care was chosen for Africa, adopting Western standards. The program is free, in order to overcome the population’s extreme difficulties in accessing health centres and medication. On the 1st of December, on the occasion of World AIDS Day, Benedict XVI launched an appeal on behalf of those affected by this disease, especially children who every year contract the disease from their mothers, although there are therapies to prevent this. Dream’s first concrete experience was achieved in Mozambique, this then became a model used successfully in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. Dream has significantly changed the lives of many patients, particularly women, involving them directly in the dissemination of the program. In Mozambique, a group of HIV-positive women founded the association "Women for the dream." Artemisa Chiziane is a protagonist of this dream.
When and on what occasion did you first find out about the Dream centre?
It was 2005. During my pregnancy I went for a medical examination at the health centre in my local area, Matola 2. I had to undergo an HIV test, because otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible for them to open a medical file for me. We were ten women, seven of whom were found to have contracted HIV, including myself. It was not easy to face up to the news. I was very scared, but I wasn’t able to cry, as I had already experienced the first symptoms of the disease, consequently I had no doubt, when they told me the result. I had all my tests done at the Dream Centre and the doctor decided that I had to immediately begin antiretroviral treatment, the so-called triple therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus to my baby.
What does the Dream project consist of?
It deals with complete control, prevention and treatment, meaning, the global fight against HIV infection. The value of the person is fundamental for the Community of Sant'Egidio and so Dream was established with the objective of bringing together AIDS prevention and drug therapy even in sub-Saharan Africa, just as this takes place in the West. The principle is that prevention is not enough, but that lives need to be saved, while the objective of therapy for pregnant women is to ensure an generation free of HIV.
Why Mozambique ?
The Community of Sant'Egidio is historically and closely linked to Mozambique, having facilitated the peace agreement signed there on the 4th October , 1992.
What are the main challenges facing the Community of Sant'Egidio?
The greatest success has been assisting in the births of ten thousand healthy children in Mozambique by HIV-positive mothers, as well as having saved their mothers thanks to antiretroviral therapy. It is the same as my story. It is essential however, that this miracle should continue to be possible for all HIV-positive mothers. Today, the main challenge is to work together with the Ministry of Health, in order to give hope to all. This model should be spread to all the provinces, in order to help women have healthy babies. It is particularly important to save mothers in rural areas, where the population does not have access to medication or adequate information, and do not have hospitals available within their local areas. The people who still turn to healers, the curandeiros , with the correct information supplied by Dream activists, would change their ideas: beliefs can change, Mentalities can change!
How was the activist movement born? And how important is this outline, which you have just referred to?
I am an activist and very proud to be one. It is a sensitive job as we activists deal directly with patients, working on the front line. We encourage and support the sick and their families! We go into their homes, offering a guidance service on several levels: nutrition, hygiene, proper administration and consumption of medicines as well as psychological support. We guarantee a constant presence in all Dream centres accommodating and infusing strength and courage in patients who have come for the first time and have to start antiretroviral therapy. We participate in information campaigns both in local neighbourhoods as well as in the workplace. We are the living example that the battle against AIDS can be won.
What have you learned from your own personal life story and how has it changed your outlook on life? And what role has training and education played?
I have found new energy and hope that I didn’t have before the illness. I have discovered that above all it is the power of love that leads me with a sense of responsibility, dedication and discipline to help others. I have learned that antiretroviral drugs are like the a ray of sunlight for me. With regards to training every year we activists attend a refresher course. I also believe that education is fundamental, not only health education but above all moral and civic education, personal education because it restores and promotes dignity. Being HIV positive does not mean the end of life.
At the moment what job are you doing?
I am the coordinator of the nutrition centre of Matola. Our centre is visited daily by around eight hundred children. We also have a nursery , a escolinha , attended mostly by "Dream Children”, those born thanks to the program. We are assisted in our work by those teenagers who had previously attended the centre and this interchange is very important for the children.
What role can Mozambican women and, African women in general perform in the fight against AIDS? How they can help change the destiny of Africa?
We women are the pillars of society in every corner of the world. Wherever we are we bring life and hope, but the scourge of female illiteracy in Africa is still one of the major obstacles towards development. We can change our destiny only through knowledge, education, the education of our children and husbands, vocational training and work. According to an old African proverb: whoever educates a woman you educates a nation!
In the light of your experience what is the value of faith and hope?
The value of hope is the life I've had up until now. I would not be alive if I hadn’t had patience and faith. The daily dialogue that I maintain with God gives me the strength to help others.
What is the dream of your youngest son, Hilário?
He is just seven years old and doesn’t for now talk about dreams, but I’m sure he does dream. He was born healthy thanks to the Dream program and I hope he will able to study medicine in order to help people who are suffering.
Artemisa Chiziane, born in Mandjakaze (Gaza) in Mozambique, 14 October 1978, she moved as a child with her parents to Maputo due to the civil war. Mother of five children, the youngest of which, Hilário, was born healthy thanks to the Dream Program. She lives in Boane (outskirts of Maputo) with her three youngest children. An activist of the Dream Program, she is the coordinator of the Nutrition Centre of the Community of Sant'Egidio, in Matola (Maputo). Her dream is to become a nurse.
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