South Africa praised for gains in AIDS fight

By February 25, 2013

South Africa (MNN) — The United Nations recently praised South Africa for the work it has done in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

However, there are still pockets in the country where the prevalence rate is shockingly high. For example, take the village of Sweetwaters, a rural community nestled in the hills of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.

The province has the highest infection rate in South Africa, and Sweetwaters is among the highest there with over 50% of the population suffering from the disease.

That the community is devastated is not surprising, given the cumulative effect of the disease. It not only touches an individual and the family, but also the entire community. Baptist Global Response and Tabitha Ministries help over 2,000 homes, 5,500 children living in child-headed households, and 1,000 terminally ill patients in the Sweetwaters area.

Baptist Global Response and Tabitha Ministries are helping make a difference there. On average, their partners say they see an average of 150 deaths a week, plus that many new cases in the same time frame.

Tabitha Ministries offers a hospice program and, because of the high death rate, they come alongside more than 6,000 orphaned children living in child-headed households, via a "mobile mom" volunteer caregiver program. The World Hunger Fund is providing monthly food parcels for these child-headed homes, as well as others who suffer with AIDS.

Over the 10 years working in the area, these BGR partners also saw the need for a multi-purpose community center. They needed to find a place that could serve as both a storage point and logistical center for food distribution.

As the outreach grew, they also needed a dedicated facility to serve as a basic clinic and as a classroom space for training seminars. A space like that would also provide a more visible presence in the community.

BGR donors agreed and funded the initial project to build the center, and provided materials and services. The community center is nearly complete, but the center is not fully operational because electricity has not yet been connected.

Construction of the center has been tremendously beneficial for the volunteer staff of Tabitha Ministries, as well as the Sweetwaters' residents served by the ministry. Prior to the project, partners had not anticipated the possibility of starting a school for children too sick to attend the regular school — or the enormity of the spiritual, emotional, and physical impact that the center would have on the community of Sweetwaters. Today, roughly 5,200 people benefit from the center's services.

Why the name Tabitha?" In Acts 9, Tabitha (also known as Dorcas) is described as a busy woman because she was always doing good and helping the poor. At her death, Peter was surrounded by women whose lives she touched. "All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them."

Tabitha was known for her compassion, skill, and dignity, promoting healing in those she helped. As a result, Tabitha/Dorcas was identified as a disciple of Christ. Tabitha Ministries' vision follows that of its namesake: to promote healing of the whole person–spiritual, emotional, mental and physical.

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