- An estimated 9 percent of adults in Rwanda are living with HIV/AIDS, according to UN figures. The Rwandan Red Cross is now implementing a series of HIV/AIDS programmes with support among others, of the British Red Cross, to lessen the isolation that many feel.
Misara Mukamutara is 44 but looks 30 years older. She is in her last days, if not hours of life, dying from AIDS in a small spartan mud house in Rwanda.
Misara, who has been ill for the last four years, is cared for her by her 22-year-old daughter Tidjala. But the family also receives vital support from home-based care volunteers with the Rwandan Red Cross.
It is a huge effort to speak but in a shallow whisper Misara says: "When the Red Cross volunteer comes I feel comforted and accepted. I gain some strength in my heart and don't feel so alone. The Red Cross has given me a mosquito net and food and also counselled me."
To help tackle the burgeoning problem of looking after the ill and dying, the Home-based Care programme has 300 volunteers across the country supporting patients and carers like Misara and Tidjala. They work in 5 out of 12 of Rwanda's provinces and next year the Rwandan Red Cross hopes it can expand within these provinces to offer more families care and assistance.
In addition to providing practical and emotional support, the volunteers have also helped Tidjala to care for her increasingly weak and frail mother more effectively.
- The Red Cross volunteers who visit, take care of us and comfort us but they also help us with items such as soap and sugar and have taught me how to take better care of my mother, she explains.
Despite the emotional and physical strain of caring for her dying mother, Tidjala takes on her role with pride: "She is my mother so I regard it as a privilege to take care of her but it is quite hard sometimes, especially because I know that she will pass away. But I prefer it that I take care of her, rather than someone else."
A short distance from Misara's house, a group of people living with HIV/AIDS are receiving support of a different sort from the Rwandan Red Cross. It has helped them form an association and the members, who have called their group 'Let's Preserve Life', provide each other with moral support and benefit from a feeling of 'strength in numbers'.
The formation of the group is also aimed at helping to break down the stigma and discrimination that not only surrounds HIV/AIDS, but helps to fuel the epidemic.
Asuman Ndagijimana is 34-years-old, but the disease has left him completely blind. "The Red Cross thought that coming together would make us stronger. We can go public together and tell people about our status. Some people in the community are negative about us, they do not say 'hello' or shake hands, but others through education have come to understand and they know they cannot catch the virus from handshaking," he says.
The Rwandan Red Cross is supporting the 46-member association by buying goats to breed and sell, providing seeds, tools and fertiliser for a market garden, and school materials for their children. 'Let's Preserve Life' is one of five associations in the province. Between them all, they have around 270 members and the support of 40 volunteers from the Rwandan Red Cross.
Sixty one-year-old Francois Kanyonda is another person benefiting from belonging to the association.
- Before I joined, I was afraid of death, he says. "I always thought I would be the next one to die but that has gone. Now I have peace of mind. I socialise with the others and know that they care. They ask me now I feel and I share my feelings with them. I feel more accepted in the community than before," he admits.
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