Written by W. Evan Golder
The photo haunts my memory. It's an old man's head but on an infant's body. The baby sits on its mother's lap, dwarfed by her hand holding the baby in place. Its tiny fingers barely reach around her thumb as it sucks on its own. A tear drips from the baby's left eye. The infant is wrapped in some kind of cloth. I wonder how long the baby will live.
"This is a story about AIDS in Africa," the caption reads. "Look at the pictures. Read the words. And then try not to care."
This photo and others by James Nachtwey (Magnum) appear in the Feb. 12, 2001, issue of Time and on Time's website at www.time.com/time/2001/aidsinafrica/.
The statistics about AIDS in Africa are overwhelming: 17 million Africans dead so far; 30 million more Africans will die of AIDS-related diseases in the next 10 years; 70,000 children are born HIV positive in South Africa alone each year; of the world's 13.2 million children orphaned by AIDS, 12.1 million of them live in Africa.
But it's photos and stories, not numbers, that move people, especially photos and stories about children.
Time writer Johanna McGeary tells about 17-year-old Tsepho Phale and his three young brothers. "He never met his father, his mother died of AIDS...He had to quit school, has no job, will probably never get one. ‘I've given up my dreams. I have no hope.'"
Hope is something Christians know about. Not only hope as in God will love you always, now and forevermore, but also hope as in God's people can offer hope now, by encouraging good stewardship of resources, including funds and medicine and information.
This is especially difficult in Africa. Many people and governments deny that AIDS exists, because to acknowledge AIDS means to acknowledge the social conditions that bring it about. Patients don't want to hear why they're sick, doctors aren't allowed to tell the truth on death certificates, and the subsequent ignorance allows the pandemic to run out of control.
Medicine and sex education—and funds for both—are crucial to fight AIDS in Africa. One economist from Harvard University's Center for International Development argues that a comprehensive prevention and treatment program to combat the AIDS pandemic in Africa would cost just $5 per American per year.
Also needed is will—popular will and political will. That's where we people of faith come in. We can pray and tell stories and show photos and raise people's interest in using American resources in this fight. We can offer Africa's children a reason to hope again.
Common Global Ministries supports five AIDS-related missionaries in Africa. For advocacy updates or an information packet, "Bless the Children: Africa's Children and the AIDS Pandemic," contact Bridget Robinson, P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis IN 46206-1986; phone 317-713-2550; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute funds, contact Jane Sullivan-Davis at the same address; phone 317-713-2558; e-mail email@example.com.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.