When I arrived [at Progressio partner organisation Contrasida - 'Against AIDS'], I started a new programme – a pastoral accompaniment programme. At the time, the programme was mostly home visits and accompanying people to medical visits. In living and sharing with people living with HIV, I discovered that there were a lot of needs. We decided to establish a self-help group which still exists – there are 40 members and it is called Grupo Luz y Vida (Light and Life Group). They hold monthly meetings to deal with issues such as empowerment and self-care.
I learned that malnutrition was having a major impact on the lives of people living with HIV, so a food programme was established in the clinic. At the time we began, most of our clients were only getting half of the calories they needed each day. Now, we have seen the death rates drop dramatically as malnutrition no longer contributes to disease progression. I should note that the beneficiaries of the food programme are the poorest of the poor among our clients. We visit their homes and ensure there is a need.
In El Salvador today, after decades of war, we now have a lack of safety and security with gangs and overall violence. In some ways, it seems worse than the war. This area of San Salvador where Contrasida’s clinic is based is very dangerous. The headquarters of a local gang is located across the street from us. When the gang sends members over to us, they usually ask for food. We show no fear. We give cookies but we never give money. They know we have the parish priest’s support and they leave us alone.
I have a very deep rooted faith and studied theology for three years. I have learned that faith must be demonstrated in our actions. The testimony of our faith is to give life to those words that Jesus told us. I am also continually inspired by the words of Archbishop Romero.
As a person of faith working in the HIV movement, I consider the HIV community to be my own community. I have always told God that I want to go where he wants to take me. He has led me here.
Although I come from a very poor background, my husband and I are fighters and we gave our children a better life through education. This is my wish for everyone. One day we will see a different El Salvador.
Ana Deysi, 47, has worked her entire career in Catholic faith-based community programmes. She currently manages the Contrasida pastoral project in support of people living with HIV in Ciudad Delgado, a very poor municipality of San Salvador.
This is an edited extract from her interview published in Progressio's report Prayer alone is not enough (1.86MB PDF).
Photo: Jim Matarazzo with Ana Deysi. Jim researched and wrote Prayer alone is not enough - read his blog about the experience of meeting and interviewing people in El Salvador, Yemen and Zimbabwe. (Photo © Progressio)
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