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World AIDS Day: A story of hope

A Christmas party for children in Nicaraguaby Pauline Mumia

Claudia Soliette López Ortega is a 26-year-old Lutheran pastor who believes children’s rights and Christmas parties go together.

“It breaks my heart to hear stories about children who have never been invited to a birthday party because the neighbors know their HIV status or because they know that they are related to someone with HIV,” Claudia said.

She was 13 when she first began working with young people around HIV and AIDS prevention. At that time, Claudia and two other youth told Nicara­gua’s Bishop Victoria Cortez Rodríguez that the Nica­raguan Lutheran Church of Faith and Hope needed to show compassion for people excluded by society—in particular, the church needed to be involved in HIV- prevention.

So it was that eight years ago, the congregation launched its annual party, usually held in December, for children affected by HIV. In 2015, 62 children attended, including 27 who were HIV-positive.

At the annual party “children who are [HIV] positive, orphans or from families living with HIV can have fun and eat together,” Claudia said. “Members of the youth ministry disguise themselves as Santa Claus, clowns or characters that children like.”
Friends of the youth ministry raise funds to “buy toys and the food, and especially bring much love and joy,” she said. “We raffle basic food baskets, which are given to children who are HIV-positive…These bas­kets have the basic nutrition requirements for a patient who is taking antiretroviral treatment.”
The party serves as a platform for advocacy about treatment, as well as about the stigma and discrimina­tion that people affected by AIDS experience.

Holistic approach

After ordination in 2011, Claudia was sent to a community of people living with HIV in Masaya, a city in western Nicaragua. For three years, her team dealt “only with the issue of prevention by giving lectures and train­ing in our communities of faith, schools, universities and churches of other denominations,” Claudia said.

After they met a self-help group living with HIV,the team’s approach changed. They began providing group members with spiritual support.

“Being closer to them, we began to see their needs holistically,” Claudia explained. “Besides being people with HIV, they are people of low socioeconomic status, who have little or no education, with different sexual [orientations] and with little or no faith. All this added to the HIV status makes them a vulnerable population [in] society, so we decided to take action to influence and make a difference in their lives.”

Pauline Mumia is a journalist for the Lutheran World Federation. A version of this story was originally published by Lutheran World Information.

Photo: courtesy of Daniela Cruz/Lutheran World Information

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