Guinea is a country with a Muslim majority but Christmas is a holiday celebrated by all.
Ebola is weighing heavily on the country, with its cargo of dead, orphans, the closure of all schools and universities. And fear is the most common feeling even if people try to continue to live normally, going to the market, attending mosques and churches.
At the DREAM center of the Community of Sant’Egidio the screening goes on, identifying at the entrance feverish people who are received by a doctor in a special room where, with the necessary precautions, it is possible to try to understand the many possible reasons for the high temperature or symptoms indicative of a possible infection. In many cases it is malaria or fever due to easily treatable causes: this avoids spreading fear and allows treatment. These precautionary measures, such as the protection material provided to the staff and the immense work of awareness, information and health education, are avoiding the impact of Ebola on AIDS patients in the DREAM centers.
On this month of December, dedicated to the struggle against AIDS, a few days ago a prayer was celebrated, to all those who – due to the disease – have lost their lives this past year. Their names were remembered, together with all those perished in the country due to Ebola, in particular friends and brothers of the region of Guinée Forestière.
Only one Ebola case was registered amongst DREAM’s 3300 patients: a young woman who had been infected by a neighbor. The DREAM activists continue to follow her two little daughters and husband, who have not been infected and are under the care of the DREAM program. The prayer, the friendship between the activists and the patients, the faith in the treatment that they have been receiving in the last years and the defeat of the past experiences of stigma and exclusion by many of the patients, guarantee continuous adherence to treatment and total trust in the DREAM program and, it is a trust that saves lives.
In this difficult environment for the country, the Community of “Je DREAM” * did not want to stop the service given to the children at the orphanage that houses about 30 kids in the suburbs, some of whom treated by DREAM, as well as to the inmates of the prison of Coyah. This is possible by paying attention in taking precautions before entering the orphanage or the prison. So, and despite everything, nobody wants to miss Christmas or the preparation of the lunch for the children of the DREAM centers of Conakry and Fassia and, for the first time this year, also the preparation of a Christmas lunch for the inmates (about 90) of the Prison Coyah.
In other areas of the city, the local Community of Sant’Egidio may offer food to beggars, elderly and to another large prison of the town.
The possibility of using the DREAM centers for lunch is a great help because it will allow to welcome children and some of the poorest adults, monitoring the temperature at the entrance, complying with the hand washing with chlorinated water and preparing – in case of need – kits of takeaway lunches and gifts for those who can not attend lunch.
* Je DREAM ( I DREAM) – A movement created in the DREAM centers by patients who are committed in serving the weakest, as within the spirit of the Community of Sant’Egidio.
In Guinea, the beginning of summer is dedicated to children: a perfect occasion to have a party with the little ones being cared for by the DREAM center in Conakry.
The initiative was started by “I DREAM” activists who, like they did in the past, asked everyone to lend a hand.
Thus one patient who is a baker provided bread, a store managed by acquaintances furnished drinks, many other patients and personnel of the center contributed to the other costs … and the owner of the new amusement park in Conakry gave free entrance tickets and rides on the merry-go-round to everybody!
So, the appointment was made to meet at the gates of “October 2 Garden”, a genuine island of happiness for children, unfortunately too often inaccessible to the very poor.
Rain fell heavily during the night – as is often the case in the summer in Conakry, one of the rainiest cities in the world – discouraging some, but not all!
The activists were at the center preparing sandwiches even before the first light of dawn. And precisely at 9, the first children were at the gate, elegant and very happy!
In the course of the morning, the sun even came out, allowing everyone to celebrate outdoors and to close the day’s excursion with an excellent picnic: a complete success!
On Saturday June 20, a BRAVO assembly (Birth Registration for All Versus Oblivion), was held at the DREAM centre in Conakry. BRAVO is a programme which the Community of Sant’Egidio is organising to promote the registration of all children whose births have not yet been officially recorded, a situation which leaves these children open to the risk of becoming ‘invisible’.
The activists had prepared the meeting in the previous months by explaining the importance of registering their child’s birth to all the patients during their pregnancy at the centre. They also found more than 100 older children whose births had not yet been registered and invited the parents of these children to the meeting.
After all DREAM’s efforts for babies to be born healthy with the vertical prevention programme these children also need to have their right to exist recognised by the State if they are to become fully-fledged citizens. In a reality in which the State often seems absent (even central areas of Conakry lack water and electricity) it is instead important to understand that registering a child’s birth means giving them protection and guaranteeing their future – their rights to an education, healthcare, documents and, why not, the possibility of travelling to visit other countries in the future.
The details of about 40 children plus those of their older siblings were gathered from the parents who attended the meeting and activists are now preparing the documents necessary to register this first group of minors at the registry office.
The I DREAM Movement in Conakry wanted to celebrate the birthday of the Community organizing a party for the children of DREAM. The idea was already in the air between some activists and when the date was established they started working. No one between them had ever organized a party like this, so they wanted to see all of the details together.
Above all, the delivery of the invitations handed over to the children in the days prior to the party during their appointments of visit and control. The telephone calls to those who didn’t have appointments to the center before the date of the party to warn them also.
But then, how do you amuse the children? Singing, drawing, dancing, acting competitions … Two of them taught in the maternal and in the elementary (Bernadette and Marguerite) and taught to the others some songs.
But some acting had to be put on stage and Pierre, Rose and Naby planned one on hygiene: how and why wash hands before eating. Some children were involved in the preparation of the play during the holding on to the visit in the days prior to the party.
The day of the party the scene was rehearsed and put on stage: at the end all the children in line went to wash hands before the afternoon snack. …
But how could the afternoon snack be done, and where could you find the gifts? A good party cannot lack these details. So each one has searched donors and the result was surprising.
A guineo- lebanese industrialist sent a big box full of lollipops and candies;
a DREAM patient, a baker, brought plenty of bread and croissants, happy of to contribute and assist at the party;
a telecommunications company gave 500 notebooks;
they were lacking of food to put in the bread and another entrepreneur gave the meat for the sandwiches;
A small collection between the activists allowed to buy the spices for the preparation of the meat. Some then bought or found toys, dolls and balloons for the furnishing.
The morning of the party the appointment was at 7. The tasks were divided the previous day, so when the children began to arrive there was someone in chargeof the welcome, of the party animation, someone of the preparation of the afternoon snack and someone of the distribution of the sandwiches and of the gifts at the end.
There were gifts for the small ones (a game, an afternoon snack, candies and lollipops) and for the bigger ones (1 notebook, colors, the pencil or the pen, candies). At the end the gifts were so many that they will be useful also for the next party.
Safyatou and Fatoumata also involved two members of a very known musical group in Conakry, "Les Etoiles De Boulbinet" that came to sing for the children, with the traditional music rhythm that was appreciated also by the smaller ones.
Also the children were directly involved, first in a drawing competition, then in a poetry performance or short songs.
All the children arrived elegant, and a lot of mommies were present.
In total there were 60 children and at least about forty adults. At the end everyone, adults and children, ate and had fun and also the satisfaction of the activists was big, for a nice thing thought and organized together, moreover having a lot of fun.
Before leaving everyone was in line to receive the gift. ..Always singing.
After the party every activist will go with a thank-you note and a photograph of the party to who helped free of charge, with the intention of creating a solidarity network around the children of DREAM.
Today in Conakry, a lesson was held for mothers belonging to DREAM, about weaning their children. This is not something new: in many DREAM centres, there is increasing evidence of the effectiveness of health education, which provides one and all, especially women, with the tools and information needed to protect their health and to raise fully healthy children. Many of the children don’t have AIDS, thanks to vertical prevention; however they are at risk of malnutrition.
Avoiding or defeating malnutrition is the objective of these lessons, which are always well attended and much appreciated by patients (especially by children when, during the practical part of the lesson, the baby food is finally ready and may be tasted).
The real novelty is that this time, the lesson was held by the first group of activists, who have been working at the DREAM centre for about a month.
At the end of January, the first course of “Health Education and Nutrition relating to HIV/AIDS” came to a close, and since the beginning of February, this first group has started to support the daily work of the centre, and to follow some of the more fragile patients at home.
Many of them expressed their gratitude for the training and the desire to help others, like Pierre, who wrote at the end of the course: “It would be great if this training was permanent, because gradually, as we learn more and more, we will be able to help other people with HIV and AIDS, to have hope in life, by explaining to them what we have learned thanks to you. Long live the Benedict XVI DREAM Centre, long live the Community of Sant’Egidio, thank you.”
And Bernadette: “This course encourages me to get to know still more, to be able to help my Guinean population, which is 40% illiterate, and to be able to serve the other countries of the world. I thank our trainers who had the will and the courage to put themselves at the service of the poor, of the Guineans. Bravo to the members of DREAM!”
Thus, during the lesson, with great enthusiasm, the activists explained the importance of proper and varied nutrition for children, very effectively relaying that which they had learned in the January course.
Some of them talked about themselves, about the difficulties they experienced when their own child was born, proving how, even in a country as severely impoverished as Guinea is, it is possible – with the help of food aid which all the mothers receive from DREAM – to offer children proper nutrition.
The presence of a number of men among the group of activists, who were able to teach and to handle pans and stoves, was much appreciated by the patients, who were amused and interested in the explanations: it signals a difference and a possible change for men too, who normally would not get involved in such activities which, together with good food, guarantee the health and survival of the children.