Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"You cannot find peace by avoiding life." Virginia Woolf

Olinda is a saint.


That expression, "a saint", is used often to lovingly describe persons we admire or who go out of their way for us in our daily life. A nice moniker for a nice person. ("That starbucks barista is a saint! She totally gave me a venti when I ordered a grande!")

But, Olinda really is a saint. I don't know how else to describe her. I have truly never met someone so giving and generous and selfless in my life.

Olinda started an organization called Reencontro in Maputo, Mozambique. The name means "coming together" and its mission is to care and provide for the thousands of children who have been orphaned by AIDS. They are funded 100% by donations and AMF is a wonderfully supportive partner. Reencontro gives community-based support to over 7,000 children. They work very directly with the community and the families. They conduct house visits, provide food, ensure schooling, make sure those children or caregivers who are infected with AIDS get treatment, provide vocational training, provide social services (imagine the psychological damage of losing one parent let alone both), and many other things. For an average family of five, it takes about $100 per month to sustain them at the very basic level.

I spent today visiting with some of the beneficiaries of the program as well as spending a lot of time with the Reecontro staff talking about the challenges and struggles in wrapping their arms around a crisis that is devastating this continent.

Reencontro is dealing with a crisis that is beyond adequate words.

From the book "Half the Sky":

One of the greatest moral and policy failures of the last 30 years is the indifferenece that allowed AIDS to spread around the globe. That indifference arose in part from the sanctimony of the moralizers. In 1983, Patrick Buchanan declared, “The poor homosexuals – they have declared war against nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.” In retrospect, the grossest immorality of the 1980s took place not in San Francisco bathhouses, but in the corridors of power where self-righteous leaders displayed callous indifference to the spread of the disease.

Now think about this: can you imagine an entire generation wiped away? Well, it's happening in Mozambique and across this continent. It struck me so clearly today when I met with so many of these orphans. They were either running their households on their own (at age 14 or 15 or younger) or they were under the care of a grandparent (who, in every case today, was inflicted with AIDS.) That means that basically anyone in their 30s is dead. Imagine basically everyone you know who is a parent with small children in the US wiped away just like that. (In the rare instance that I did meet a mother (I did not meet one father - they have all died of AIDS), she was inflicted with AIDS.)

So, on the one hand, there is an entire generation of people that basically doesn't exist anymore. Then, on the other hand, there is an entire generation of children who are growing up without parents. How will this impact society as a whole in five to ten years? The psychological damage to these children is incalculable at this point. The whole thing is mind-numbing to think about.

We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. (Mother Teresa)

My mission here is both inspiring and devastating to me. Over the course of a few days, I am conducting several home visits and after they are completed, I will present the family most needy a gift from our donations. Making that determination will be heart-breaking and challenging. I met with about six families today and, truly, they all have heart-breaking stories. I will share some of those stories in the blogs that follow.

A final note about Olinda. As we were conducting our first home visit, there were a couple of other children hanging around. I saw Olinda checking the eyes of the little girl (maybe 2 years old) and she said that this little sweet girl was sick - anemic. After our official home visit, Olinda had the older sister of the sick little girt take us all to their home. When we got there, we saw that they were living in shambles (although all the homes are basically in shambles...they live in what I would loosely describe as "shanty towns." No water, no electricity, dirt roads.). There were four siblings and the oldest had a baby girl of her own (the father of the baby died of AIDS). They were living without their parents who both died of AIDS.

So, just like that, this desperate family of siblings was part of the Reencontro family. We loaded up a few of the children in the back of our truck and had them come back with us to the center to get a bag of food and supplies for the family.

When we were driving back Olinda said to me: "I am not able to see a baby starving." It was a simple statement and maybe one that sounds obvious. Who wouldn't have that sentiment? But one needs to consider that she is not talking theoretically. I witnessed firsthand her outpouring of generosity. She was very sure that the universe presented that sickly child to her as we were conducting our visit with the other family. She felt that my visit today led her to this child. Olinda does not avoid any life that is presented to her. Truly, truly inspiring. And, I hope that it gives her peace because she is tireless when it comes to these thousands of children.

What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. ("To the Lighthouse", Virginia Woolf)

Today, I witnessed a miracle. It's really as simple as that. Olinda, a saint, struck a match unexpectedly in the dark and saved this family.

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