Nellia Mudenda
Emily Loewen

Nellia Mudenda credits church-trained caregivers in her community with saving her life.

It’s easy to check in on neighbors on Nellia Mudenda’s street in Choma, Zambia.

The red dirt roads in her neighborhood are lined with homes of concrete and cement blocks, all built in close proximity. Most people don’t have cars and spend time each day out walking to work or on errands. Some, like Venirenda M’hango, wander through the area and make sure those in need of care for HIV receive it.

It was M’hango who, on one of her neighborhood rounds, noticed that Mudenda and her husband were becoming sicker and sicker and suggested they go to the hospital and be tested for HIV — a move that Mudenda says saved her life.

Through HIV and AIDS prevention and care efforts of Zambia’s Brethren in Christ (BIC) Church, trained caregivers such as M’hango are reaching out to neighbors, educating about HIV and teaching those living with the virus the importance of taking medication on time, eating nutritious food and being open with family and friends about their HIV status.

MCC supports the BIC’s work in home-based care — including a national effort to directly train some 700 caregivers who will each commit to share what they’ve learned with another caregiver. MCC also helps fund BIC assistance for orphans and other children affected by HIV and projects to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mudenda is one of 151 clients whose lives have been touched by the 12 caregivers of the Riverside Brethren in Christ Church in Choma.

When Mudenda first learned she was HIV positive, she was afraid. M’hango once again supported her, telling Mudenda that she could maintain her health if she followed the medication plan closely.

It’s a crucial role. If clients do not follow medication directions carefully, taking each pill at the right time, the treatment becomes less effective.

Mudenda credits her grandchildren with helping her stick to the plan. While many people are afraid to share about their illness, the caregivers encouraged Mudenda to talk about it with her family.

“Before they go to school in the morning, they tell me, ‘Grandmother, it’s seven hours; take your medicine.’ At night again, they remind me, ‘take the medicine,’” says Mudenda, sharing that her husband died in 2008 when his health declined after not following the medication plan.

For caregivers who are HIV positive, such as Obert Hantebera, talking about their own status can help them relate to clients and emphasize the importance of the advice.

Hantebera, like Mudenda, had become ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis — but had not been tested for HIV until caregivers in the Riverside program suggested it.

After the results came back positive, caregivers continued to visit him, providing moral support and ensuring he took the medication as prescribed. As Hantebera’s health improved, a deacon who runs Riverside’s caregiver program suggested that Hantebera attend caregiver training, and in 2006 he joined the team.

Obert HandeberaAs a caregiver, Obert Hantebera uses his own experience of living with HIV to relate to clients and emphasize the importance of following medical advice. Photo by Emily Loewen

“I saw that I could go and help some others the way they helped me,” Hantebera says.

Today, Hantebera assists with transportation to clinics, delivers medication from clinics to clients’ homes and helps bedridden clients with household tasks.

With each act, he’s living out the BIC’s call to minister to those living with HIV or AIDS.

“The church works with HBC (home-based care) clients because it gives hope beyond conventional medicine,” says Ginwell Yooma, director of the BIC church’s compassionate ministries projects. “HIV comes with a lot of stigma, be it self-stigma or stigmatization from others, but the church brings hope beyond anything else! The hope that Jesus came for those the world seems to have neglected.”

Ultimately Mudenda thanks both God and the caregivers for saving her life and for their continued support.

“I know that it’s only God who makes things possible,” she says. “Had it not been for these people, the caregivers, I would not have been here right now.”