Fighting AIDS in Africa with money raised in Knoxville

Fighting AIDS in Africa with money raised in Knoxville

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We asked what would've happened to Wa-ray if the clinic had never been built? "Dying, after a short while without ARVs, without care, she would've died," Aida Samir said. We asked what would've happened to Wa-ray if the clinic had never been built? "Dying, after a short while without ARVs, without care, she would've died," Aida Samir said.
Amino Dibo Hufu, 31, an AIDS widow; and her five-year old daughter are shunned by family members because they have HIV. Amino Dibo Hufu, 31, an AIDS widow; and her five-year old daughter are shunned by family members because they have HIV.
Group members were encouraged to dance at Camp Caribou, Knoxvillian Chris Kittrell did a spin move that drew smiles. Group members were encouraged to dance at Camp Caribou, Knoxvillian Chris Kittrell did a spin move that drew smiles.
"Right now, if I die, I know my child will inherit this piece of land, very important," Wako Godana said. "Right now, if I die, I know my child will inherit this piece of land, very important," Wako Godana said.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

MARSABIT, Kenya (WATE) - In sub-Saharan Africa, millions of people have died from AIDS, and many millions more will die.

The problems are lack of diagnosis and lack of treatment with antiretroviral medicines (ARVs.) The ARVs can keep a person who is HIV positive from developing a full-blown case of AIDS.

The faith-based group Blood Water Mission, headquartered in Nashville, works with partners in Africa to bring clean water to African communities and to help in the battle against the AIDS pandemic.

University of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton is a board member for Blood Water Mission. He and other board members traveled to Africa in late January and early February to see how their funding is making an impact.

One of the places they see that impact first hand is on a visit to a small clinic in Marsabit, Kenya.

The Tumaini Clinic, funded in part by Knoxville dollars raised last year, is fighting desperately to save lives.

During its time of operation, a little more than a year, the clinic has tested 6,000 patients and found 235 with AIDS, working to put them in programs.

The Blood Water Mission team and 6 News traveled from the desert town of Torbi, near the Ethiopian border, across the desert on a surface that barely qualifies as a road to reach the area where the clinic is.

The next morning, we walked the short distance from our guest house to the Tumaini Clinic.

Mission to Africa

Hamilton organized last year's fundraiser for the clinic. He came to Africa to make sure those dollars were well spent.

The clinic staff explained what they do and the sometimes difficult task of dealing with patients who are struggling to live.

"You just feel like crying, you know," said one of the staff doctors, Dr. Ivy Ongoro. "It's really, you feel it."

The AIDS epidemic in Africa is responsible for millions of deaths, leaving in its wake an orphan crisis of staggering proportions.

Blood Water's mission is to help in the battle against AIDS. It may be a surprise, but access to clean water is part of that strategy.

"People who are HIV positive, their systems are so weak that access to clean water is a lifesaver," said Jena Nardella, executive director of Blood Water Mission. "If they drink bad water, it compromises their ability to survive."

Our group was introduced to women and children living with HIV who have been helped by the Tumaini Clinic.

They included: Wa-ray, an eight-year old orphan whose parents both died of AIDS; Amino Dibo Hufu, 31, an AIDS widow; and her five-year old daughter.

Both Hufu and her daughter are shunned by family members because they have HIV.

Their testimonials were powerful, bringing tears to the eyes of some in the group. Afterwards we talked with the driving force behind the clinic, Aida Samir.

We asked what would've happened to the eight-year-old if the clinic had never been built? "Dying, after a short while without ARVs, without care, she would've died," Samir said.

The visit was eye opening and sobering. Houston resident W.T. Cutts offered a prayer afterward. "Thank you for blessing this group and keeping their strength up," he said. "Amen."

The group was taken next to Camp Caribou, which means "welcome" in Swahili. It's a camp for refugees. Thanks to some music, the group's mood began to lighten.

Group members were encouraged to dance. Knoxvillian Chris Kittrell did a spin move that drew smiles. Mike Hamilton also joined in. 

Everyone was having a good time, but around them it was hard to ignore the poverty, or at least what many of us imagine poverty looks like, especially the housing.

The structures people live in there are little more than sticks and grass pieced together with cardboard and tarps. Around 280 people in 54 households call them home.

Wako Godana, 33, is among the residents. He says he doesn't see himself as poor. Before coming to the camp, he says he and his family had nothing.

Now he has a home and a small plot of land where he and his wife raise 10 children, several of them nieces and nephews.

"Right now, if I die, I know my child will inherit this piece of land, very important," Godana said, smiling.

The pride of ownership beamed across his face and it wasn't lost on board member Michelle Conn from Nashville.

"You look around and you realize this is very different from what we know and yet I'm so impressed with the dignity and the hope of the people we've met," Conn said. "The courage and the strength of these people. And the fact that he's (Godana) is caring for his family and so proud of his own plot of land and what that means for him and his future. It's amazing."

The team left the camp with a greater appreciation for the people who live there.

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