Background Congregants are dying of HIV and AIDS related ailments against a background of denial, stigma and discrimination which is rife in most churches. Some churches are guided by doctrines that believe , contraction of HIV is a sin or is demonic . Those who contract HIV and AIDS are therefore ,cursed and have little faith . Some pregnant women are falling in the trap of faith healing, therefore eroding Government initiatives like PMTCT or PPTCT. Helen Jackson validates these assertions when she wrote ,‟‟ we preach to them daily also and bury them every day.‟‟
Description of context This necessitated CONNECT to embark on a project to develop and capacity build, through training 60 church leaders in Systemic Pastoral HIV and AIDS Counseling course, with the support of RATN. Aim of project was to capacity build a target group of church leaders to design, implement, support, prevent, care for and support mainstream HIV and AIDS in the church context. Geographical coverage was Harare and Manicaland.
Key interventions strategiesParticipatory learning approaches like group work, role plays, brain storming and discussions were used as a teaching and learning tool in training church leaders in HIV and AIDS counseling in the church. Mentorship during field visits enhanced capacity building and support. Linkages were facilitated to NFBCZ which created a database of trained church leaders within the network bodies to facilitate referrals of congregants in need of counseling. Financial, human and material resources were used in training, mentorship and field visits.
Evidence of success andachievements Participants cascaded acquired counseling skills to 1800 lay- leaders, who also trained congregants at lower church levels. Church congregants and communities benefited from psychosocial support through counseling. Mainstreaming of HIV and AIDS programmes in all church settings i.e. content and activities, unpacking new roles for church leaders who have the capacity to reach the majority, about 76 percent of Zimbabweans go to church. Church leaders created psychosocial support teams to fight HIV and AIDS from a biblical perspective in the church.
Lessons Learnt It is possible to fight HIV and AIDS from a spiritual and biblical perspective. NGOs have sidelined churches disseminating HIV and AIDS information. In conducting sermons or preaching participants resolved to refrain from verses or statements like „‟the wages of sin is death” or “you reap what you sow”, in the context of PLWHIV. This fuels justified stigma and discrimination. Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe (UDACIZA) participates proposed to engage sect leaders to shift deep rooted practices in the church such as polygamy, which fuel the spreading of HIV and AIDS.
Lessons Learnt Absence of HIV and AIDS policies some in some churches. If present they are rendered ineffective by rigid church doctrines and believe systems. Fragmentation of the different church denominations in Zimbabwe impeded NAC efforts to facilitate an effective and therefore implement a national HIV and AIDS policy in the church. Churches view HIV and AIDS as a politico-socio economic issue therefore have turned a blind eye, HIV issues not openly discussed.
Recommendations The capacity building net must be cast wider to reach out to female church grassroots leaders like mother’s unions to empower them as front-line actors in fighting HIV and AIDS. Male dominance in church leadership is a typical stereotype in Zimbabwe yet majority of congregants are women, There is need to help church leaders to re- define issues of spirituality verses HIV and AIDS scientific reality, e.g. faith healing verses ART in the long term facilitating paradigm shifts in rigid church doctrine and belief systems. Need for civic organization to effectively engage the churches it fighting HIV and AIDS.
Challenges experienced• Issues of spirituality are sensitive and therefore controversial. Entrenched issues of spirituality conflict HIV and AIDS scientific facts.• Counter- strategies, employed include exposing participates to increased factual knowledge and awareness of HIV and AIDS. Capacity building unpacking the need for church leaders to offer holistic support to congregants which include social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral as opposed to spiritual only. Therefore the critical role of psychosocial support through
Conclusion ( why best practice for replication• By joining the band wagon of Government and civic society in HIV and AIDS campaigns, churches will facilitate change in society‟s perception, attitudes, practices and therefore behaviors related to HIV and AIDS.• If churches are not effectively involved, gains realized in mitigating the impact of HIV and AIDS will be reversed or paralyzed like, the decrease of HIV prevalence to 15,60% as of Jan 2011 , also donor and Government funded initiatives which help to fight HIV and AIDS like PPTCT, PMTCT, PITC and VCT• Civic organizations are therefore challenged to support churches in the fight against from spiritual initiatives.
Conclusion ( why best practicefor replication)• Majority of Zimbabwe are church goers .The church and its leaders are well respected .Their word is final and followed religiously. A case was sighted of a medical doctor who abandoned ARVSs to the detriment of his heath in favour of faith healing. The church is therefore a very powerful tool which can be used to fight HIV and AIDS.• The church must therefore be engaged as a key stakeholder to spearhead the spirit to fight against HIV and AIDS at all social levels including family ,community, regional and global.
Biblical text - Ecclesiastes 10:10)“Usinga dull axe requires great strength, sosharpen the blade. That‟s the value ofwisdom; it helps you succeed.”