Angélique Machozi is a young Congolese woman who has been living openly with HIV for several years. She and her husband, Patrick, live with their three young children in the town of Bunia, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. When Berdine van den Toren* visited Bunia, she took time out to meet Angélique and Patrick. Here is her report:
If ever I have met a couple full of life and joy, but also full of compassion for people in need, I have met them now. They are Angélique Machozi and her husband, Patrick, who started the NGO Action Chrétienne contre le VIH/Sida (ACCV), or Christian Action Against HIV/AIDS, in the town of Bunia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They came to visit me while I was in Bunia for a couple of weeks, teaching at the Anglican University of Congo. Because I had watched their DVD, Hope is Power, in which Angélique tells her story of living with HIV, they seemed very familiar to me when they walked into the house where I was staying. They took me to their office and we talked.
Angélique and Patrick certainly know what it is like to live with HIV. Angélique has travelled the long and lonely road of anxiety, illness, loss of hope, stigma and marginalisation. She told me how hard it had been to walk along the road in the city and to see people avoid her, and refuse to greet her. She told me how painful it had been to know that people judged her, talked about her with one other, but never with her. Finally she made the extremely difficult decision to no longer accept marginalisation and to start talking openly about her HIV-positive status. She began by speaking in churches, to help Christians understand what it is like to live with HIV and how to support people living with AIDS. This then led to the start of Christian Action Against HIV/AIDS in 2011.
Christian Action Against HIV/AIDS focuses on helping people who are struggling to deal with their HIV-positive status by giving them correct information, but especially by giving them support in their lives, particularly in their family situations. Angelique says:
“People who are HIV-positive are even more at risk emotionally than physically. Stigma and loneliness lead to a loss of hope and the loss of a reason to live. These losses lead people to give up their efforts to live a healthy life with HIV.”
Angélique and Patrick give this support in personal encounters, and through establishing groups where people meet and support one other. She says: “We bring people into a new community, a new family, where they find acceptance, love and care, and new hope. And then they themselves become bringers of hope to others.”
An example of the importance of this work is the story of a young woman who, because of her pregnancy, found out that she was HIV-positive and was totally shocked by this. Her baby boy was born prematurely, but she wanted to reject him. The hospital called Angélique, who went there straight away, bringing food and also some clothes for the baby. She spent a lot of time with the young mother, firstly listening to her, and then encouraging her, explaining what had happened and what could happen in the future – how she could live a positive life with HIV, with a healthy child. The good news is that the woman has now accepted the baby boy as her child and is recovering both mentally and physically.
What touches me most is the fact that Angélique and Patrick do this work with so much joy, purely out of love and commitment. They receive absolutely no salary! They live from donations from friends, from the Christian organisation PACANet and whatever money they can earn through little projects. This means that they live from week to week, not knowing if they will be able to continue with their work, if they can pay the school fees for their children, or even if there will be enough food for the family.
*Berdine van den Toren is a travelling missioner with the Church Mission Society (CMS). For several years she lived in Oxford, where she worked for CMS and was also a trustee of the STRATEGIES FOR HOPE Trust. While in Oxford she became acquainted with Angélique Machozi and Patrick Kisembo through their video “L’Espoir est un pouvoir” (“Hope is Power”), which she helped to edit.
See ... L’Espoir est un pouvoir