The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has released his 2009 World Aids Day video, in which he speaks with the Revd Patricia Sawo, a church leader and mother from Kenya, about her experiences of living with HIV. The video highlights the plight of expectant mothers who are HIV positive and the support they need to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies.
The video is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmB7SqxuAR0
Dr Williams and The Revd Sawo discuss both the problems that emerge through keeping silent on issues surrounding HIV and the importance of the Church’s role in breaking this silence and providing support and leadership. As a faith leader and a mother herself living with HIV, The Revd Sawo gives the example of her own church: "My congregation knows about my status and people in my church know that this is a place where, if they come with HIV, they can be loved."
The Revd Sawo calls for the eradication of the stigma and denial associated with the condition: “The things we are silent about, the things we never talk about - they are the things that really affect us”.
In the video the Archbishop says that the Church can: “Provide space for people to face themselves, to be themselves, and to cope with their future.”
A message of hope runs throughout the video. The Archbishop says: “We know that the transmission from mother to child is something that can be dealt with. We need to encourage all our governments to keep up their commitment to making this medical help available, and to giving that hope, which we know is possible.”
The Revd Sawo echoes this: “What makes me hopeful is the Church, and the love that a woman can receive in the Church. Hoping in faith that all things are possible, but at the same time making it a reality by having the space in the Church where women can grow to be themselves, and be able to face all kinds of life challenges.” The video also highlights the role of men, of fathers, in supporting mothers to access support and vital services.
According to the United Nations, there are 2.1 million children (0-15 years) living with HIV. In 2008, 430,000 children were newly infected with HIV, 90% of them through mother-to-child transmission. In low and middle income countries, only 45% of mothers living with HIV can access comprehensive services to help protect their babies from infection.
Patricia Sawo is the HIV Ambassador for Tearfund, a Christian relief and development agency, who co-produced the video.
The full transcript from the video is below:
Archbishop - introduction:
Every mother wants the best for her child, and that’s why, if a mother feels that if she’s transmitting not only life to a child but also risk or danger, it’s a big trauma. It’s something that can undermine a person very deeply. It’s a point at which they need the most generous support available.
I’ll be speaking with the Revd Patricia Sawo from Kenya, who will be talking out of her own experience of this, and also her experience as a church leader.
In some churches they talk about HIV and AIDS and in some they still don’t, but in my church it’s not a ‘big thing’; it’s something that we talk about. My congregation knows about my status and people in my church know that this is a place where if they come, they can be loved. Therefore, many people have turned to me when they are HIV positive, which shows that if church leaders availed themselves, (if) they have accurate information, the support is there. They can be there for the people, the space can be there.
Patricia, what makes you hopeful about this situation of mothers and children, and HIV?
What makes me hopeful is the Church and the love that a woman can receive in the Church. Hoping in faith that all things are possible, but at the same time making it a reality by having the space in the Church where women can grow to be themselves, and be able to face all kinds of life challenges.
So the Church needs to be affirming of women in this position – do you think it has a role of spreading information as well?
Yes. The Church has a role in spreading the information, but also empowering the women to be able to stand and face the challenges. There is this lady that came to me for help. She could access the ARV’s (antiretroviral medication) for (preventing) mother-to-child (transmission), but her main issue was: "How do I deal with the shame of this? How do I face the other people? How do I answer when they ask me why I am not breastfeeding my child?" That is something that I also personally struggled with, yet they are things that we can deal with if there is space.
You’ve used the word ‘space’ more than once actually, and I think it’s a wonderful one to use for what the Church can offer when it’s doing its job. Provide space for people to face themselves, to be themselves, and to cope with their future.
You need somewhere to be able to be safe with your realisation. The Parable of the Prodigal Son normally beats me here, that things were very difficult but when he came to realisation, there was this place that he knew things would be different.
What happens to children isn’t just about mothers though is it? It’s about fathers too. How do they come into the picture?
With HIV it seems to be that the woman is the one that is being pushed to the wall, because it’s about the child being infected inside the womb, it’s about the child being infected at birth, it’s about the child being infected while breastfeeding. But at the same time, this is a child that has been brought forth by these two people: a father and a mother. And so for me, it becomes [about] the involvement of men in this [that] would really make it simple, because the many questions that the woman has to deal with would be lessened if they are both involved from the start.
What are the other big messages you’d want to put out – to the Churches, to the public in general?
For me, the key message to the Church is we must make sure that we eradicate stigma, and we must make sure that we [em]power our members, our congregations, to be able to overcome all sorts of shame and to be very open about sex and sexuality because this is where the problem is most of the time. The things we are silent about, the things we never talk about, they are the things that really affect us. So I would wish to see my congregation where members are controlling the issues that are a crisis to them, and not my members being controlled by the crisis.
Archbishop – conclusion:
The message is that there is hope.
We know that transmission from mother to child is now something that can be dealt with. We need to encourage all our governments to keep up their commitment to making this medical help available, and to giving that hope which we know is possible. And in all of that, the churches have a crucial role. Patricia’s spoken a lot about how the Church can be a safe space, how the Church can realise people’s potential. How the Church really can be a lifesaver here.
So we can pray that all our congregations will be themselves the agents of hope that they have the capacity to be.