A few weeks ago the lady who does psychosocial care passed by my desk and saw a mound of beads and debris and we chatted about the weekly accessories course I help teach. She asked if I could do it with a group of HIV+ women that she works with. I was like, “Totally! What a great idea!” Because of the very physical nature of most domestic jobs it’s hard for them to find work that they’re up to doing in the non-formal sector, so it’s a great idea to give them skills that the can do from home.
We already had a few ladies signed up to start on the next course, so I suggested to some co-workers that we just put them all together in a class. No one has to wait another 6 weeks and everyone wins. Easy, right?
My co-workers had reservations. They said the other ladies wouldn’t come if the HIV+ ladies were in the class. My response was, why would they need to know? Why on earth would we announce that to everyone?
Well, they said, we use needles in the class. And scissors. I think I was silent for a moment. Then asked why that mattered. And explained (gently) why that was ridiculous. The women are level-headed adults and will not be running around the room with needles and scissors. I reminded them that HIV is actually difficult to contract. To think that anyone would be in any danger of contracting it sharing scissors was completely bonkers.
Well, they said, but people are scared of people who are HIV+. And I said that we could be an example, treat them like normal people because they are, and it would be good for everyone. There’s no need to be scared!
They didn’t bite. They thought it would be wrong to put the other women in danger.
I talked with the psychosocial lady. She was unsurprised and we agreed for now it was best just to do a separate class for them. I wasn’t happy about it, but sometimes you can only do so much.
So I started with them yesterday. It was a small group. But a really great, warm, funny group. All Muslim, and one woman covered in the full abaya. As much as I was against putting them in a separate class, it turned into a little support group which was really cool. The women didn’t really know each other prior and so talked quite openly about life and stigmas and how hard it is to find work.
One girl was young and said that she’s scared of getting married and having kids but after hearing that some of the other women have healthy kids she said “Hm, ok, maybe I will someday.” and smiled. Another woman talked about her husband getting a second wife and leaving her and her kids. A lady talked about how someone who knew her from her home country saw she’d applied for a job and he told everyone she had HIV and now everyone in her knows and she can’t get a job.
But we also laughed and joked and they got the hang of the technique easily and gave the psychosocial lady a hard time for not being able to thread needles. It was great.
I did run into the office to pee while I was teaching and a well-meaning doctor of ours asked to make sure that they were taking their needles home with them. I was like “Yeeeeeeees, ” because the ladies always get to keep the supplies they’re using. Though I wanted to be like, “You know we’re not shooting up with them, right?” It was frustrating.
But there is a co-worker who usually helps me teach the course. She’s not always around but when she is she helps teach. When I’d approached her originally about the class with the HIV+ ladies she said she couldn’t help, that it would make her too sad. I said I understood but told her, you know, instead of feeling sad you could help them and that would be better for them and for you? A week or two later she came back to me and said she’d thought about what I said and her daughter (who is 18) said the same thing and she prayed about it decided she would help me teach.
It felt like a victory. Refugees here face so much stigma, and ones known to be HIV+ have so, so, so much stacked against them. I’m really happy that I get the opportunity to help them earn some money and I’m excited to work with them more the next few weeks.
Here’s to hoping I can convince everyone that an equal-opportunity class should be the norm for the next go around. Because I really, really can’t cope with segregation. Especially within the very walls of a church compound.
“…if we notice and care fully, if we cry with the hurting, stand in compassion with the broken, and share with the hollow, will we not be devoured by the grief while the uncaring world goes it’s buoyant way without bothering? It is an old temptation among us to think so much about the need of the world that we get bogged down in our own depression, for the losses are too deep and the needs are too great for our capacity….The antidote to our depression is our calling in God’s purpose. The ground for well-being midst suffering is the power of God. We gather on this communion Sunday to testify to each other that the suffering of the world all around us is on the midst of God’s power from which we at freely in caring ways of solidarity.” Walter Bruggemann