It’s hard to believe that only a few years have passed since the Bible Society of Malawi launched Where is the Good Samaritan Today?, the Bible-based HIV and AIDS awareness program that is now being run by around 20 African Bible Societies. From the very beginning, the response was overwhelming. And still the program continues to grow.
At 12 per cent, the prevalence rate for HIV and AIDS in Malawi is among the highest in Africa. Give the size of the country and the remoteness of many communities, spreading messages which will reduce it is a major challenge. The Bible Society realised that its position as one of Malawi’s largest ecumenical organisations gave it both a particular responsibility for taking up the challenge and a strong local network on which to draw.
Sensitisation meetings with government officials, religious leaders and managers of NGOs; workshops for volunteer trainers; local meetings; visits to schools; providing materials such as booklets and films: converting the principles of the Good Samaritan program into practical measures involves extensive planning and a great deal of liaison with and support from charitable organisations, local churches and individuals. And as word spreads about the program’s impact, more and more people are approaching the Bible Society to ask for support in tackling HIV and AIDS in their community.
An extremely effective model
So how is the Good Samaritan program making a practical contribution to reducing Malawi’s HIV and AIDS prevalence rate? In several key ways: prompting people to talk more openly about risky sexual behaviour, guiding them towards finding out their own HIV status and encouraging them to reach out to, rather than reject, those affected by HIV and AIDS. And the outreach is not in one direction only: in many communities, people living with HIV and AIDS are now speaking out confidently and spearheading efforts to both change people’s attitudes and provide practical assistance. As more and more groups and individuals become involved, it is clear that the Good Samaritan model is extremely effective. In addition to its immediate impact, it is also proving highly sustainable, with many trainers now linking with their communities and churches to create long-term support groups. In a further indication of the program’s impact, the government is willingly providing funds for such groups.
The program saved her life
Young and old, families and individuals, male and female: Good Samaritan trainers are hearing from people of all backgrounds how, through the program, they are finding the courage to tackle the social and practical challenges associated with HIV and AIDS.
“I met one 58-year-old woman who had been ill for a long time,” Florence Masanjala reported to the Bible Society. “She understood what I told her about HIV and AIDS and agreed to go for testing and counselling, but her husband refused.
“Her health was so poor that she decided to go alone. She was told that she was HIV-positive. She received counselling and medication and is now much healthier. But when she told her husband that she was HIV-positive he did not take the news well: he refused to believe that he might also be HIV-positive and he left her.
“She is very grateful that, through the Good Samaritan program, she went to be tested, as she knows that this saved her life. Now we have to work together on helping her husband to overcome his fears and go for testing, too.”
Another trainer, Charles Nkovole, told the Bible Society about a family he met in Luchenza.
“We talked at length about HIV and AIDS but they were adamant that they would not go for testing,” he said. “But after participating in the Good Samaritan sessions, they changed their minds.
“One day they invited me to their home. They told me that they had been thinking carefully about what they had heard and that they would go for testing and counselling after all. They found out that the husband was HIV-positive and that he needed medication. They were very grateful that I had been bold and persistent in addressing this issue with them.”
Reports from the field like these are a clear indication that the Good Samaritan program is helping to improve people’s knowledge and to bring communities together, says Bible Society HIV and AIDS Coordinator Patrick Gondwe.
“The trainers are continuing to do excellent work in fighting HIV and AIDS,” he says. “As they show how biblical values can be applied to this challenge, they are promoting love, challenging stigmatisation and bringing hope to both the infected and the affected.
“We praise God that the Take Charge youth element of the Good Samaritan program has proved particularly popular. We are now confident that, thanks to Take Charge workshops, many young people now know how to protect themselves.
“Demand for training is far exceeding our original plans, but it is very encouraging to see that local community- and church-based groups are taking on a lot of responsibility. This will ensure that the good work will continue even without direct Bible Society involvement.”