Posts filed under 'HIV'
My cellphone rang and the display read James Fraser.
“Didn’t he just leave for Malawi last week?” I thought as I answered the phone.
“Hi Kat!” James bellowed. A joyous chorus of women’s voices sang in the background. “I’m in Malawi! I’m at Sakata Village celebrating the opening of the community centre in honour of Pax. You wanna talk to Emmie? She’s asking about you!”
“Katie. How are you?” Emmie, Pax’s wife and colleague in the HIV-support programme, was on the other line. So close suddenly, so near. “Don’t forget about us!” she said.
Hearing her. Hearing the jubilant voices from Sakata Village rising. How could we forget. Just today, we were planning more action with The Bicycle. So more to come. More to honour Pax, Emmie and their life’s work.
The voice on the other line: Emmie Chingawale. Portrait taken by Chikundi during photovoice training, 2005
November 1st, 2007
We are all in shock. We are all mourning.
Pax Chingawale, our friend, colleague, inspiration and hero of The Bicycle, died yesterday.
Pax was a Malawian AIDS activist, who so kindly — and courageously — invited me into his home and life to make a film about his and Dignitas’ fight against AIDS. I was so moved when he told me of the time he learned about his HIV-status. He said he couldn’t stay quiet for long. He chose to speak out about his condition in the face of great fear, stigma and even hatred amongst his neighbours and friends. With such sadness, he told me that for many months they stigmatized him, but little by little, he earned their trust.
“Every minute of my life is full of HIV activities and I’ve seen a change in many people now. They respect me and they themselves are questioning whether they have HIV/AIDS or not. So there is a very big impact, ” he said.
On our last day together, we had such a blast filming him riding his bicycle around his neighbourhood. I hung out of the back of a van with the camera, as he rode his bike, behind us, then beside us, then behind us again. We were at it for over an hour, trying to co-ordinate the speed of the van with the speed of the bike, while trying to catch the magical light of the African sunset. He had such a wide smile on his face, his neighbours calling out to him, lovingly teasing him and laughing.
Yesterday afternoon, Pax was hit by a truck while he was driving a motorcycle on the highway back towards Domasi, in Zomba, Malawi. He was returning from a meeting with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Pax was taken to Zomba District Hospital (where Dignitas runs its ARV clinic) but he died several hours later during emergency surgery.
Only a few days ago I had received such a wonderful email from him (please see the blog post just below).
Pax was doing so well. His hard work was only just coming to fruition. He had plans to build a community building right beside his house on his property to better support the 204 orphans and 134 HIV/AIDS patients he and his wife Emmie had taken under their care. He was so happy that he had been recently hired on as staff for Dignitas International.
This is such a terrible loss for so, so many: his wife Emmie, their children and grandchildren, for his community, for Dignitas and for all of us who had come to know his gentle strength and his fierce generosity. May his spirit live on in all of us, and may he continue to inspire us all.
July 26th, 2007
An important new book is hitting bookstands soon, and it’s getting high praise.
“The best book ever written about AIDS,” says Stephen Lewis, ”Certainly the best book I’ve ever read.”
Stephanie Nolen’s 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa chronicles the African AIDS crisis through the stories of 28 individuals living with and fighting the disease. Nolen chose 28, one for each of the million people on the continent infected with AIDS.
One of Nolen’s 28 is Alice Kadzanja, an HIV-positive nurse working with Dignitas International, at Zomba District hospital in Malawi. You may remember Alice from our film The Bicycle, and our chapter about Dignitas on our website.
In fact, Nolen met and interviewed Alice the same time I was filming with her. I recall Alice laughing shyly as she went from one interview to the other, all the while juggling patients at the bustling clinic.
Alice, together with the other 27 from across the continent (including a truck-driver, an orphan, a prostitute and a political activist) are the human stories - and the heroes - behind the inhuman statistics of the African AIDS crisis.
The book comes out April 24.
Dignitas Head Nurse Alice Kadzanja
April 5th, 2007
A project I helped mentor is up and at ‘em.
It’s called Lifeboat, and one of the short films is now on-line at a virtual museum for women. The project is about the rights of HIV-positive women to bear children.
“They may already have children or may deeply desire to have them. They may also be under strong familial and societal pressure to have children. Whatever their situation, they must inherit the legacy of the HIV stigma, which is compounded in motherhood.”
Manu and I met in an Italian monastery during a weeklong documentary love-in. She had come with the idea to work with AIDS and motherhood, but wasn’t sure how to form her project. After a session I gave about new media and emerging forms for documentary for political action, she asked me to mentor, and she began mapping out an awesome plan. She decided to forgo the usual film/tv industry approach to make a standard documentary, funded by film grants and tv stations.
She decided instead to partner with NGOs across Europe to create collaborative media using internet, video that informs and inspires about the right for women with HIV to have children. She involves the community and participants, she has concrete political goals, creative license, and a sweet distribution approach that gets her stuff seen by the people who need it the most. Sounds like FIR in action!!
March 20th, 2007
Pax, the central character in The Bicycle, has sent me good news via his son, John.
John is back at a computer and e-mailable now that he’s returned to university in town for his last semester studying engineering (this year he’s looking at soil stabilization).
“Pax has now been fully been employed with Diginitas International,” John writes. “This is good to our family and many others. He himself is over the moon as this is a sign of his committal both to the society and Diginitas as an organization.”
And remember the bicycle-ambulance that Pax was talking about?
John reports that Pax’s group of volunteers “Now has two bicycle ambulances [one from Diginitas and the other from Self Help International.] In fact much is happening, and if this will continue then Pax’s volunteer group will one day cover the whole district of Zomba.”
I’m over the moon about all this too.
March 17th, 2007
Pax in our film Bicycle, is not the only hero-bicyclist at Dignitas International.
Scott Simpson is a Canadian HIV+ triathlete. Scott’s dream was to cycle 13,000 km across the continent of Africa in support of Dignitas. To prepare, Scott did a series of endurance events, including the Ironman trialthaon. But the gruel began to take a toll. During the Ironman, Scott’s body gave out as he collapsed during the race, and was rushed from the course by ambulance. On that day, his dream to cycle across Africa ended.
So students at U of T picked up where Scott left off, and together they created the Race for Dignity. Volunteers pedal on stationary bikes to raise funds for Dignitas to complete Scott’s unfinished 13,000 k.
And on a tv-screen nearby, Pax rides along.
This year’s event starts on Wednesday at campuses across Canada. Check out the deets here.
January 15th, 2007