RELIGION-AFRICA: Integrating HIV/AIDS in Theological Curriculum
Musa W. Dube
GABORONE, Feb 15 (IPS) - Future batches of priests coming out of theological institutions in nine African countries will benefit from a training workshop to help them better understand and handle HIV/AIDS. Sixty participants from Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe attended trainers' workshops in Johannesburg, South Africa and Gaborone, Botswana recently.
After the workshops, the participants were sent home with the task of organising a national workshop that would further train other lecturers and tutors.
The church has been charged with responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Instead of standing with those who are living with HIV/AIDS, the church responded by associating the disease with a punishment from God. This added to the stigma, as it became increasingly held that those living with HIV/AIDS had somehow brought it upon themselves.
Further, the church's approach to prevention is riddled by controversies over the use of the condom. The condom, the church holds, promotes promiscuity. This standpoint ignores the fact that many innocent children are born with HIV/AIDS. That many who attempt to abstain are raped at home and on the streets and 80 percent of married women who are HIV/AIDS positive acquired the disease through their partners, despite their faithfulness.
Abstaining and being faithful, like condom use, is not a hundred percent safe, health workers say.
The church, however, being an institution that is closely in touch with the people and families, could not entirely ignore the disease. When the last stages of HIV/AIDS pull in, families call upon religious ministers for prayers, counselling and burial..
The need for equipping church ministers to adequately deal with HIV/AIDS is undoubtedly obvious. Apart from their negative response to the disease, most ministers were trained in the days when the disease was not known. Some of them were new ministers, but too many of them are still graduating from their theological school with no training in HIV/AIDS issues.
It was important that church ministers are trained to work effectively in a HIV/AIDS era. In particular, it is important that theological institutions, responsible for training ministers, should review their curriculum to mainstream HIV/AIDS in all courses; introduce core courses on HIV/AIDS prevention and care; and run short courses for pastors in the fields.
The two workshops, held in Johannesburg and Gaborone from Aug 26 to 31 and Sep 9 to 14 respectively, began with individual self-assessment in so far as HIV/AIDS is concerned. This culminated in repentance and willingness to move on to be part of the solution both in prevention and care.
In an attempt to break the silence surrounding sexuality in church and culture, participants were asked to name the sexual organs in their own mother tongues. Most people said they could not do so because many of the words were in popular usage tantamount to vulgar words or insults. The Mozambican participants said they use the word Shihoto, meaning something dangerous, to refer to sexual organs.
The ice broken, participants were divided into working groups, comprising people from different countries. The groups were set the task of assessing how many theological institutions have integrated HIV/AIDS in their curriculum, either as individual courses or as separate courses. The findings were quite revealing; Little or nothing had been done.
The rest of the workshop days focused on how to integrate HIV/AIDS in biblical and theological studies, in counselling and how to write a successful project proposal.
Participants from different countries worked in national groups to plan courses that integrated HIV/AIDS in the curriculum and presented their efforts to the rest of the group. They also designed new courses, focusing on HIV/AIDS that they shared with the other groups.
Given that HIV/AIDS calls for more community leadership from church ministers, they were also trained on writing project proposal, monitoring and evaluating a project during the workshops.
The workshops also tried to intertwine analytical skills and theological frameworks that could enable church leaders to have a better understanding and stance on HIV/AIDS care and prevention. Some of the paradigms adopted were a theology of life, healing creation, and liberation.
The issue of gender analysis proved quite difficult, for church leaders. Although research indicates that gender inequalities are a major driving force behind the spread of HIV/AIDS, many ministers believe that God ordained gender disparities.
At the end, each country was asked to choose its own chairperson, secretary and additional members of the committee. These committees have been asked to organise and call their own national 'Training of Trainers' workshop, which would ensure that all lecturers in theological institutions in each country, would have integrated HIV/AIDS in the curriculum.
Church ministers, who graduate from such institutions would be better equipped to serve in their committees than those who have to learn all about HIV/AIDS when they are already serving in their congregations.
In addition, church leaders who were never trained for HV/AIDS ministry would be offered short courses. The last stage will mark the success of these workshops, in the sense that they sought to train trainers - those who are supposed to go out and make more disciples.
HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. The estimated 3.4 million new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa in 2001 mean that 28.1 million Africans now live with the virus, according to UNAIDS.
The UN body estimates that 2.3 million Africans died of AIDS in 2001.(END/2002)