SWEETWATERS, South Africa (BP)--Walk the dusty paths of Sweetwaters, a rural community nestled in the hills of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, and signs of death are everywhere. Nearly every house has up to a dozen graves in the yard -- most are only a few years old and most are there because of AIDS.
Young Bongiwe plays in her front yard while her 16-year-old sister Xoliswa washes clothes in a metal tub. Nearby, 11 graves bear mute witness to the fact that all the adults in their family are dead because of AIDS. Xoliswa now cares for the little ones.
Earlier this year, infant Seth and his 3-year-old brother Nzuzo were buried alive by their mother who was dying of AIDS. A neighbor discovered them, rescuing the brothers from certain death. Seth has AIDS. Their mother is now dead and the whereabouts of their father is unknown.
Recently 17-year-old Msizi, seven months pregnant and an AIDS patient, died. Her baby was still alive within her, but there was no way to deliver it. AIDS claimed two victims that day, not just one.
An estimated 5.6 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS in South Africa -- the world's highest number -- and the KwaZulu province has the highest infection rate in the country. In Sweetwaters, more than 50 percent of the population has the disease.
Southern Baptists -- through Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, and Tabitha Ministries, a humanitarian organization in Sweetwaters -- are helping make a difference in the lives of people suffering from the effects of HIV/AIDS in Sweetwaters.
In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 22 million people live with HIV/AIDS and 1.5 million die each year. The number infected on a global scale is more than 33 million, with 2 million deaths per year.
Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, focusing not just on those affected by AIDS around the world but also highlighting opportunities to make an impact on this deadly disease. One way Baptist Global Response is attacking the pandemic is its In-Home Care Kit (www.inhomecarekit.org). The kit entails a five-gallon bucket filled with medical and hygiene supplies that a hospice caregiver can use to ease the suffering of terminally ill patients in places where access to such supplies is limited or nonexistent.
AIDS has a cumulative effect, according to Mark Hatfield, who with his wife Susan directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response. The disease not only touches an individual and the family, but also the entire community. BGR and Tabitha Ministries outreach extends to more than 2,000 homes, 5,500 children living in child-headed households and 1,000 terminally ill patients in the Sweetwaters area.
They see 150 deaths a week, and that many new cases.
"We are really in a killing field right now, where death has become the norm," said Gail Trollip, a registered nurse who founded Tabitha Ministries.
"It's not your normal disaster situation where you have an event and it ends with recovery and rehabilitation," Hatfield said. "This is a disaster that is ongoing, day after day."
The focus of Tabitha Ministries is multifaceted, according to Trollip. The ministry started with HIV/AIDS training, then quickly moved into in-home hospice care for terminally ill AIDS patients.
From there, they began taking in infants whose parents died of AIDS. Many of the babies themselves are infected or sick. Tabitha now operates two orphanages and is involved in several schools.
Hlengiwe is one of the orphans assisted by Tabitha Ministries who head their households because of the AIDS-related deaths of their parents. Hlengiwe began caring for her seven brothers, sisters and cousins at the age of 11. Her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all died of AIDS. As the oldest, it became her responsibility to care for her family. She is now 14.
The bulk of Tabitha Ministries' relief work is carried out by volunteer caregivers who visit the terminally ill along with "mobile moms" who spend a set amount of hours each week in homes headed by orphaned preteens and teens.
Through the volunteers, Tabitha Ministries -- with assistance from BGR -- provides medication, nutritional food packets, school uniforms and shoes to the thousands under their care. They express encouragement and concern and take time to share God's love.
"These caregivers and mobile moms who are giving themselves so selflessly really need an incredible amount of prayer and support themselves because of what they see and experience day in and day out," Trollip said.
Hatfield added, "One of the things I see is that HIV/AIDS acts as a magnifying glass or prism overtop of the community. You see some of the bad parts magnified. You see some of the results of poor choices and the results of sin. You see the results of people not following God's plan for abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage."
On the other side, he pointed out, "It also brings out the good in organizations like Tabitha Ministries, who sincerely care about the welfare of the people they are ministering to. They care about the lives of these kids who really don't have a future without help, without someone coming alongside of them and empowering them to take care of their own needs and own situation."
Hatfield sees the partnership between BGR and Tabitha ministries as a good fit.
"As Baptist Global Response we want to find partners that have a like heart who are a delivery system and can assure that the resources get to the people in need," Hatfield said. "BGR's tagline is 'Connecting people in need with people who care,' and we believe Southern Baptists are people who care. Tabitha Ministries is a vehicle for being sure we are getting the resources to the most vulnerable and needy."
Submitted by the Baptist Press international bureau. To help with the fight against HIV/AIDS, visit Baptist Global Response on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.
To view a video about Tabitha ministries, go to http://www.bpnews.net/mediaplayer.asp?Id=70.
To download the video and other resources, go to http://www.baptistglobalresponse.com/new/aids.php.
Copyright (c) 2010 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net