Monday, January 19, 2009

An Open Letter to President Bush

Dear President Bush,

I am an American citizen working among more than 100 HIV+ women in a unique sewing program in Jos, Nigeria. I want to personally thank you for your valiant efforts to prolong the lives of these women. My friends aren't dying anymore thanks to your President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These women and their families are eternally grateful to you and the U.S. people for providing free anti-retroviral drugs for them. You have changed their story: They are living fairly normal lives. They are raising their children. They can now work.

The generosity of the U.S. government is overwhelming to me. Every time I give a tour to U.S. visitors in Nigeria, I get choked up thinking about what my government is doing 'for the least of these.' The PEPFAR program is an amazing humanitarian effort in 15 countries around the world. In 2003, the U.S. Congress approved 15 billion dollars for a period of five years, and in 2008 Congress approved a staggering 48 billion dollars for the next five years. I'm proud to say that PEPFAR is actually reaching the grassroots of Nigeria. There are tens of thousands of HIV+ people (men, women, & children) accessing FREE anti-retroviral drugs in our city of Jos. They are receiving other services through PEPFAR as well.
To my amazement, only about 5% of the American tourists who visit Mashiah Foundation have ever heard of PEPFAR. Only about 1% can articulate something about the program. Why don't the U.S. citizens know more about PEPFAR?
Nanwor Tonga, 31, was told that she had HIV the day before her wedding in April 2002. The wedding was cancelled, and Nanwor prepared for an imminent death. In a valiant attempt to save their daughter's life, her parents managed to scrape together $300 every month for 6 months in order to buy herbal drugs for her. With time that became impossible to maintain; later she was able to access free anti-retroviral drugs through the PEPFAR program. Today Nanwor is a thriving, contributing member of Nigerian society. She is on staff with Mashiah Foundation's Self-Sustainability Program.

In 2006 Martina Markus was unconscious for two weeks with a CD4 count of 14. She started taking anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs through the PEPFAR program and now proudly boasts a CD4 count of 380.
Patricia Emmanuel's CD4 count went from 95 to a whopping 905 after taking the ARV drugs. What would have happened to her four children if she had died for lack of access to drugs?
Had the U.S. government chosen to avert its eyes from the global AIDS crisis, I'm afraid I would be telling a different story today.
President Bush and the American people, we are indeed grateful for your wisdom, foresight, and compassion. Your legacy is the living, breathing testimony of thousands of grateful Nigerians.
Sincerely yours,
Mary Beth Oyebade

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Casting off for a Cause

I spent a good part of Saturday and Sunday preparing for our offering on Monday for our crisis victims. I went through almost every area of our home looking for anything that we don't need and that's still in good condition. The trunk of my car is full, as well as the front seat and one of the back seats. I have just enough room in the car to get the boys to school in the morning.

It was actually a fun exercise in removing things that we don't really need. In fact, my eye is now trained to look for anything in excess and to weed it out.

When I first moved to Nigeria, I unpacked my 4 boxes and the house still looked empty. Now, 13 years and 4 family members later, the house has a lot of excess stuff.

I tried to work with the boys on getting rid of some of their toys, but I wasn't very effective. All it basically came down to was me throwing away bits of broken toys and organizing some of the toys with many pieces. I'm still searching for a way to get them to understand the need to give to others who don't have.

Two months ago I removed all of their Duplos while they were sleeping. Later I passed them on to a new missionary family who doesn't have many toys. None of the kids has ever mentioned anything about the missing toys. But the point is not for me to be sneaky; I want them to learn how to relinquish possessions.

Parting with their clothes is much easier for them. A few days ago David and I went through all of his shirts, and he gave away 1/4 of them. It was a pretty simple process. First we counted all of his shirts, figured out 1/4, then he gave a 'yes' or a 'no' to each shirt until he had the right amount.

It's very easy to find homes for items we no longer want in Nigeria. I know that can be a struggle in the U.S., but here it's pure joy both for the giver and the receiver.

I'm looking forward to our most unusual offering tomorrow! I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Starting Over

We had a major religious/political crisis in Jos on Nov. 28/29, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Just three days before the crisis, there was a major fire in part of the Jos downtown market. Because of the crisis and the ensuing tension in Jos, it was at least a month before I entered the main market and saw the devastation for myself.

The news of the fire had been eclipsed by the crisis. In fact, I hardly even remembered hearing about it. Therefore I was shocked at the devastation that I saw when I entered the market. At least 40 shops had been consumed by the fire. The shops are quite small, about 12 feet by 20 feet, all joined under one roof. I offered condolences to a couple of the merchants I knew who lost everything. The fire occurred around midnight, and they don’t really know what caused it.

In the past I often purchased items from the man pictured at the right. After asking him about the details of the fire, I asked as an afterthought, "So how was the crisis for you?"

To my utter shock, he said, “They burned our house and our car, but we thank God that our lives were spared.” I just wanted to weep right there; how could one family lose its livelihood and home and car within the space of three days in separate, unrelated incidents? Jos is a city of approximately 1 million people. The market and his home are about 1 mile apart. What are the odds of that happening?

How do you pick yourself up after something like this? I don't know, but I do know that Nigerians are the most resilient people I have ever met.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

After the Fall

This evening I heard a loud crash in the family room and children crying. I knew immediately what had happened. I dashed into the room, prepared for a horrible sight. David, 5, and Lily, 3, were on the floor with all kinds of cards and board games scattered around them and a tall bookshelf on top of them.

To my amazement, Lily was not hurt at all, and David only suffered a bruise on his lips and a little blood in his mouth.
I just brought that bookshelf into the house recently. The first day I had it in the house, I knew that we needed to nail it into the wall...but that was a few weeks ago. We just finished arranging the games on the shelves yesterday. I had forgotten that a child would logically think of climbing the shelves to get something out of reach.

In fact, I'm sure I contributed to the problem because the boys have a bookshelf in their bedroom that they are supposed to climb in order to reach their platform where they play with legos. It never crossed David's mind not to climb the game shelves.

Bayo immediately found some concrete nails and secured the shelves to the wall. I think this is a good reminder for us to walk through the house and see if we have any other safety hazards for children.
We thank God for protection and that the children were relatively unharmed.

I'm Positive Life goes on

Our new shirts made their debut on Monday, January 12, 2009. Originally we had printed them for World AIDS Day on December 1, 2008. However, we were still in crisis mode at that time so the event didn't hold.

The front of the shirt says:
Mashiah Foundation Changing the Story

And I guess you can read the back!

This is a very bold statement. And some of our people are thinking long and hard before they decide to wear the shirt. One of our staff members who does not have HIV reported that her family said she cannot leave their house wearing the shirt in the morning. She can only carry it with her and put it on at work, and then remove it before she leaves work.

A few years ago I saw a friend of mine in the U.S. wearing a t-shirt that simply said "HIV positive." Now I thought that was a bold statement! My HIV-negative friend wore it simply to show support for the millions of people who are infected with HIV. To me, our statement is a little softer than that because it can be read two different ways.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Remembering our Crisis Victims

Today our HIV+ women met in a large group gathering for the first time this year. It is always such a joy to come back together.

When our staff met last week, we decided that we really wanted to do something special to help our women who were affected by the Jos Crisis in late November. Eight of our women had their homes and possessions burned.

Nigerians love to act drama and seem to do it effortlessly, ad-libbing all the way. Two of our staff members acted the part of women who lost everything in the fires. They cried out to God about all of the hardships in their lives: HIV, widowhood, and now this. In the second scene two women were chatting about how they were planning to spend their money this month on the latest fashion, etc. Then a third woman came up and challenged them to remember those who lost everything in the crisis.

While the cast members sang a song, the staff delivered envelopes with N3000 ($22) to each of the eight victims. This money had been donated expressly for crisis victims. Just this morning Mashiah Foundation was given 22 wrappers (six-yard pieces of cloth used for sewing a complete outfit). We gave two wrappers to each crisis victim. The six remaining wrappers will be given to others in need.

One of our crisis victims was in tears over this gift. In reality, the gift was not big, but I know that they all felt the outpouring of love, and they know they have not been forgotten.

Sarah issued a challenge to all of our women: next Monday we're all going to bring an offering for the crisis victims from what we have in our houses: clothes, shoes, raw foodstuff, pots, plates, money... And we're not going to be bringing our cast-offs. This will be an offering as unto the Lord.

A gesture such as this helps our HIV+ women see themselves in a new light. For so many years they have thought of themselves as the receivers. Now they are the givers, out of whatever they have.

I, for one, can't wait till next Monday.

Life is Full

For a couple of years, I've been fairly intentional about not using the word 'busy' too much. I don't like to have "I'm too busy" be the first words out of my mouth.

So, let me not say that I've been too busy to blog; let me just say: Life is full, and life is good!

Sometimes it's a little too full, but we're working on that...

You know your life is too full when you bake your Christmas cookies on January 2! The other day Tobi asked me when we're going to put the frosting on them!

We had our 12th wedding anniversary on Dec. 28. Bayo took the kids to church, and I took a sick baby to the hospital. It wasn't how I had planned to spend the day, but it was significant to the life of that child.

Interestingly enough, out of the five families who live on our compound, three of the couples were married on December 28!! Two of the couples married in 1991, and we followed in 1996.

The other day someone asked when we were married, and when I told them, they just groaned because they couldn't imagine having Christmas and weddding all at the same time. I don't remember it being difficult--probably because our plans were extremely simple.