Neema Kiswaga, the project coordinator of Good Samaritan in Tanzania, explains how it works.
Around the world some 34 million people live with HIV. And two-thirds of them live in Africa. But a scheme run by Bible Society is helping to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across 14 countries.
Using the biblical story of the Good Samaritan as its base it teaches compassion for the suffering. It explains what HIV is, how it is transmitted and encourages sexual gratification within marriage as a means of faithfulness, a reduction in the number of sexual partners, the use of condoms and the importance of getting tested.
In doing this, it’s created understanding and helped to dispel fear and stigma, reuniting families and entire communities.
‘Without the Good Samaritan, this village would have been wiped out,’ says 46-year-old Hilda Ntiya.
Three years ago, the village of Kasarika where she lives was dying on its feet. A quarter of the population was HIV+. But as few knew their status, the real figure was undoubtedly higher.
Today, the majority of villagers have been tested and the prevalence rate has dropped to 15 per cent.
It’s a massive change in less than three years and Hilda has been a part of it. She was ‘inspired’ by the Good Samaritan training that she received from Bible Society. ‘I knew I couldn’t keep quiet,’ she says. ‘I wanted to help people who are suffering.’
So today, Hilda has set up a one-room community centre and orphanage in Kasarika.
Some 111 Aids orphans from the village live there. She’s seeing them all through school. Additionally, she feeds 45 Aids widows and 145 elderly people whose families have died, every day. It’s a basic meal of sima, maize flour mixed with water. But without it many of these people wouldn’t eat at all. And, she keeps an eye on the 399 people in the village who are HIV+.
Hilda has a personal reason for doing this. Out of her 10 siblings, eight have died of Aids. ‘If we’d had the Good Samaritan then,’ she says, ‘they would have lived’. One of her remaining sisters is on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). Her nieces and nephews are HIV+.
She talks about how the village has changed. ‘Before we started there was a lot of death. There was a lot of promiscuity and that led to a lot of quarrels and disputes.’
There was a sense of fatalism too, she recalls. ‘Everyone was sleeping with each other and they thought that everyone was HIV+ and was going to die, so they might as well live like that.
‘Now things have changed. People know how to live positively.’
Twenty-eight year-old Bertha Chikaonda realised that her husband had been unfaithful to her when she took an Aids test. She was HIV+.
Her husband, Gomesi, worked in a bar near the village of Kasarika in southern Malawi where the couple lives with their four children.
Here, he slept with the prostitutes who also worked in the bar.
Bertha says she was ‘bitter’ when she learned her status and how this had happened. Gomesi’s reponse only made the situation worse: ‘If you die, that’s your problem’.
Her first thought was for her children who range in age from 1 to 13 years. ‘I’m an Aids orphan myself,’ says Bertha. ‘I know what it’s like. My biggest worry was who would look after my children if I died.’
Today, Bertha has the help of a support group set up in her village by locals who have gone through the Good Samaritan project. They want to help each other and families like Bertha’s.
The children have a meal each day at the village’s community centre. This helps as Gomesi now struggles to get work because he is HIV+, and so the family struggles to make ends meet.
Bertha’s health has also improved, as the support group has encouraged her to take anti-retroviral drugs.
‘Now I’m happy, healthy and stronger,’ says Bertha. ‘I hope that I’ll live for a long time and see my children grow up.’
Some 59 per cent of people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa are women.
Dalitso Leonard (29) is one of them. Sitting in a tiny church in the village of Luchenza in Malawi, she weeps as she tells her story.
‘I was so happy on my wedding day,’ she says. ‘I thought that this man would encourage me. I thought he loved me for who I was.’
Dalitso had become HIV+ in 2003 when only 20. The father of the child she was then carrying passed the virus on to her. The unborn child died, as did its father leaving Dalitso in a community where she was stigmatized because of her status. ‘People looked at me like I wasn’t worth being called a person,’ she says.
But in 2006 she married. Her husband accepted her status. And though she could no longer have children, the couple was happy. Or so Daltiso thought.
But when she started taking anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) in 2011 the reality of the situation dawned on Dalitso’s husband.
‘He had thought I was lying to him,’ she says. ‘But then he could see it was real. He decided to dump me. I couldn’t believe that he would really leave me. I thought he would come back.
‘When I met him again he’d found another lady. He said, “This is my true wife.” It was bitter for me.
‘That’s when I decided to kill myself. I was serious about it. I took a rope and climbed a tree to hang myself. But a friend found me and climbed up and brought me down.
Dalitso is one of more than 365,000 people who have heard a message of hope from the Good Samaritan project, run by Bible Society.
‘Now,’ Dalitso says, ‘I am glad that I didn’t kill myself. I have found hope.’
Sixty-nine year-old Enifa Ngulama sits on her portch in the village of Kasarika in southern Malawi chatting to her neighbour.
But it wasn’t always like this. For years Enifa’s nighbours and relatives ostracized her, believing that she was a witch and was killing people with Aids.
‘In the end the whole village was accusing me. They used to say, “You are a witch. You are killing people.” It was very painful. I just couldn’t believe it.’
Worse was to come when Enifa’s own family turned on her. They ransacked her house shouting, ‘Why aren’t you dead yet? We want you to die’.
‘If your own children and grandchildren rise against you, what will happen to everyone else?’ she says. The answer was that they joined in. Enifa was repeatedly attacked and on one occasion a lynch mob carrying sticks set on her to beat her to death. But she was rescued.
Enifa isn’t alone. In Kasarika there are at least 40 other people who have been accused of witchcraft, stigmatized, ostracized and physically attacked.
But the Good Samaritan project, run by Bible Society, is changing all of that.
It uses the biblical story of the Good Samaritan as its foundation, teaching compassion for the suffering.
It explains what HIV is, how it is transmitted and encourages sexual gratification within marriage as a means of faithfulness, a reduction in the number of sexual partners, the use of condoms and the importance of getting tested. Over 365,000 people have heard this message over the last three years.
‘Now people are beginning to believe that deaths are not because of bewitching,’ says Enifa. ‘It’s from HIV sickness.
‘Things have started to change. In some cases people came to apologise to me. They said, “We’re very sorry. We know that you have nothing to do with the deaths that have happened.”
‘I’ve been reunited with my family and all this is a thing of the past. But without the Good Samaritan project I would have been killed.’
Anne Mulindili was just 12-years-old when her mother died. Her father couldn’t cope with the eight children and there was little food in the house.
Anne’s elder sister ran the home. When she died, Anne became a prostitute in order to feed her siblings.
Each night she’d work at a local bar, all night for the equivalent of about £1. This had to feed her and her six remaining brothers and sisters for the next day. And so it went on.
‘We were praying because there was no help,’ Anne recalls. ‘Everyone was afraid.
‘There wasn’t enough food. If I hadn’t gone into prostitution, people would have stigmatized us for being poor.’
Leaving prostitution was very, very difficult for Anne and she returned to it several times.
However today she does piece work for local farmers and earns just enough to feed her five children.
Anne – who is HIV+ - is now a Good Samaritan trainer, helping other people to understand how HIV is transmitted, how to live with it and encouraging care and compassion.
‘My life has changed beyond recognition,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t go back to the bars [brothels]. My future is very bright now. I believe in God and I know he will take care of me.’
‘Our village is a happier and more hopeful place thanks to the Good Samaritan project.’
That’s the verdict of local minister, the Revd Joab Zakaria Messo. The 50-year-old runs five churches around the village of Nala in rural Tanzania.
In 2007 he introduced Bible Society’s Good Samaritan scheme to his area. Through role-play, group discussion and readings from the Bible, the project teaches some basic facts about HIV, blows away myths and crucially shows God’s love for those living with the condition.
It’s changed Nala, the Revd Messo says. ‘Before, when people were tested for HIV they were seen as sinners and they were abandoned by their families. They were modern-day lepers,’ he recalls.
‘Now people talk openly about their status. People used to gossip and families were divided. Now there’s unity.’
He adds, ‘I tell people that this is not God’s judgement. It’s just a disease like any other, like malaria. Now the church is busy and we always have a prayer time for people with HIV after the service.’
When 20-year-old Cecilia Mwangatua was just nine, she fell seriously ill with measles. Her parents both gave blood to save her life.
It was a donation that will ultimately cost her life, as Cecilia’s parents were unknowingly living with HIV. When she was diagnosed HIV+ aged just 12, after her parents’ death, Cecilia’s grandparents shunned her, forcing her to live in a dimly-lit storeroom alone for three years.
Her brothers were forbidden to talk to her. She had to grow, prepare and cook her own food. And she slept on the mud floor, on a calf skin.
‘We thought that through eating and sharing a room with her we would be infected,’ says her grandfather, 73-year-old Yohane Mwangatua Ndahane.
Cecilia recalls this desperately sad time in her life. ‘I felt that I was alone in this world,’ she says. ‘I thought I was the only person living with HIV. I thought God had ditched me. But I prayed that someone would help my family to understand me.’
Her prayers were answered through the Good Samaritan. By attending the group Cecilia heard for the first time that God loved her; that she was unique and was taught ways to live with HIV. And through her, so did her family.
Everything’s changed now Cecilia says. ‘Now we eat together and sleep together. I am happy that the family are all united. It helps me to forget about my parents’ death and my own status.’
Today, Cecilia is training others in the Good Samaritan programme and is working to be an apprentice seamstress.
When 21-year-old Yona Ndahani discovered that his father was HIV+ he was furious and he wouldn’t talk to him.
Yona was ‘confused’ by what had happened, but most of all was afraid that his father would die leaving him alone.
‘I didn’t want to hear anything about HIV,’ he recalls. ‘I thought it had nothing to do with me.’
But over time the angry teenager was encouraged to attend the Good Samaritan course where he learned about HIV and Aids, and his rage started to diminish. The compassion shown in the biblical story of the Good Samaritan spoke to him.
‘The Good Samaritan taught me that a person who is HIV+ is a normal person like anyone else.
‘I understand the issues more now and am reconciled to my father. It’s renewed our relationship.
‘Now I also help other people who are having these problems, because I know that it can happen to anyone.’
Amani Wilson Hosea is a lad. A right lad. He and his friends used to run a ‘champions league’ scoreboard of who had slept with the most girls.
‘I used to have nine different girls a week,’ he recalls, smiling. ‘There are so many girls, it’s not hard to do.
‘But I was never the champion. Others had more. One who used to call himself The Big Dozen used to have 12 girls per week.’
On the Good Samaritan course, Amani learned that unprotected sex and having multiple partners increased your risk of becoming HIV+. So, in 2008 he settled down with one girl whom he hopes to marry.
‘She’s unhappy about my past,’ he says, ‘but she believes that I’ve changed.’
And have you? He smiles. ‘What touched me was learning that you are unique and important to God,’ he says. ‘I knew that if I was important to God, then I could change.
‘I didn’t used to think about the future, but now I do. I decided to face up to my past and find out my status. Amazingly I’m negative. Now I’m excited about building a future with one girl and living like other, normal people.’