Guinea has been passing through difficult times of late. A general indefinite strike called on 10 January by the CNTG and USTG trade unions has paralyzed the country. For days, schools and offices have been closed and the traffic that usually jams the streets of the capital Conakry has disappeared: no cars are in circulation and collective taxis, which normally guarantee transport from one end of the city to another, are all on strike.
Everything is blocked and the population is being besieged by conflicting appeals to take to the streets for rallies and to stay home, given that rallies have been banned. The army is patrolling the streets and unrest has started, with a number of deaths. In this climate of tension and confusion, many patients of our DREAM centre have been worried that they may have to disrupt their treatment.
However they have found ways and means of leaving their homes, with some walking through some of the night to reach the neighbourhood where the centre is located by morning. They want to be there for their most crucial appointment: collecting antiretroviral medicines. This example of adherence is a testimony to the will to live, to the desire for health and for a future, which rise above fear and desperation.
Children at St Philip Neri, an elementary school in Bari, recently got together with teachers and parents to show concrete solidarity with their peers living in Conakry in Guinea. Classes III C and III D in particular produced a play, the proceeds of which were donated to support the little patients of the DREAM centre in Africa.
The initiative was born after the children were made aware about the DREAM centre in Conakry by some people who went there as helpers and who shared their experience with them. This contact with Africa through the words of people elder to them, and the information they learned about the enormous gap between their lives and those of African children, deeply touched our friends in third grade and encouraged them to realize – albeit in the modest surroundings of their reality – a great and vivid example of Euro-African solidarity.
Africa was placed right at the heart of the initiative: hanging on the Christmas tree were photos of children from the School of Peace in Conakry and the presence of African musical instruments (kora, balafon, tambourine, djembe, and so on) gave a different note to the day. The many questions asked about the African continent turned the packed meeting into a lively discussion in which the children proved themselves to be at the same level as the adults present.
Truly the friendship between Europeans and Africans, the bond between two different worlds that want to be close together, has helped and caused everyone to grow in Bari as much as in Conakry.
In Conakry, Guinea, a wall of fear and resignation, typically built by AIDS around those it afflicts, is starting to crumble.
Some time ago, a group of sick women who come to our centre, around 20 of them, started to meet once a week to talk about their personal experience and to compare it with that of others. Strong feelings of solidarity and friendship are being forged among these women, who have all lived through suffering – albeit each in a different way – because of the disease and even more, because of the solitude and stigmatization that come with it. However, our patients discover that they have more in common than the hope of feeling better and of finding new courage in their hands, courage that comes from regained physical strength and from the improvement felt in their bodies, or witnessed in their children receiving treatment with DREAM. They find they also share the feeling that they have received a big gift, which could be transmitted to others, thus winning over resignation and discouragement.
“Yesterday and today are not the same. Yesterday’s suffering is no longer here,” said Fanta. “Without you, I really would have ended up badly. This disease is terrible if you have no money: I couldn’t even manage to walk anymore. Now I have faith in God and in you, forever.” The disease caused many neurological problems for Fanta, so that her relatives started saying she was going mad and eventually had her locked up in the “cabano” (this is what people in Conakry call the psychiatric department of the city hospital). Now Fanta is well and she comes to meetings with her child, Muhammad.
At the meeting, the story of one is intertwined with the stories of the others: they remember when they were together in hospital, with their sick children, without anyone to explain anything to them (“My child was admitted and they told me: ‘you have the same disease’ and that was it. It was only when I arrived here that Dr Pierre explained to me that I had AIDS,” says Aicha). They recall how together, they walked the path leading from the hospital to the DREAM centre (the two places are very close to each other), how they saw a steady improvement in their own health and their children’s. Many moments are remembered with precise clarity. “It was a Saturday, 2 December, when I found out I was HIV-positive. My husband told me seven years after he got to know it from doctors in Donka,” says Mariame, who today has a baby born within the vertical prevention programme.
On the other hand, at the meeting, each one deepens her knowledge. The women find the courage to ask many questions and thus understand more and more how infection is transmitted and especially how it can be prevented. In this way, they see how it is possible to live free from the nightmare of infecting one’s relatives, children and sisters. Many women have suffered precisely because of the silence and rejection of their relatives.
Desperation gives way first and foremost to amazement at finding people who are somewhat unique at DREAM. “These are people who help because of God. Here the doctor gets angry for your own good if you do not turn up for an appointment: he takes it so much to heart, it’s almost as if he was the one who was ill,” s