The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a serious problem here in PNG, and it’s one of the main functions I got to address upon my arrival, with the setting up of a medical clinic and a testing/counseling facility to address most at risk populations (MARPs). It’s been quite an adventure starting from the ground up, and we’ve been helped greatly by our partner, FHI360, that has provided invaluable training and assistance. They are the conduit for the USAID funds that are coming into the country to address the issue.
I must admit I was surprised at the extent of the problem in this country. It’s unfortunately one of the challenges that has come as the nation faces the cultural upheaval of becoming an independent and emerging nation. And it’s a matter that the government, NGOs and supportive nations are all working feverishly to address.
With the start-up of our clinic and our “House of Hope” facility at Ela Beach, we’ve had the opportunity to begin addressing support for individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. One of the most heart-breaking issues is the children who are left parentless and are being cared for by grandmothers who are struggling already to make ends meet. Sometimes the kids are just left on the streets to fend for themselves. Our House of Hope is truly an oasis in the midst of the homeless populations that gravitate to Ela Beach, and to serve families of those living with HIV/AIDS.
Sunday, 1 December, was World AIDS Day. All over the area, for the past several weeks, buildings have been adorned with huge red cloths draped top to bottom replicating giant awareness ribbons. Of course then, our project staff made it a priority to commemorate the day.
So at 5 o’clock folks began gathering at Ela Beach on the grounds of House of Hope. The Koki Corps Band was on hand to provide Christmas carols for accompaniment and special music. Salvationists from area corps and the Officer Training College filled the grounds along with our project staff and some of our clients. There was singing, and testimonials from some who have been impacted by HIV and AIDS, and candles were lit and placed at the foot of a little cross to commemorate the lives of those lost to the terrible epidemic.
It resonated deeply when as a gentle rain fell and the band softly played “Silent Night,” folks lined up one at a time to light a candle and place it next to the cross. I took a moment to light a candle for a dear friend, lost nearly 20 years ago. My prayer, as I sat playing, was that God would bring comfort to those who have experienced loss, and that more, our little part of this project would have a significant impact in relieving the suffering in this beautiful nation of Papua New Guinea.