At prayer healing services in some Pentecostal churches, pastors invite people infected with HIV to come forward for a public healing, after which they burn the person’s anti-retroviral medications and declare the person cured.
The “cure” is not free, and some people say they shell out their life savings to receive a miracle blessing and quit taking the drugs.
“I believe people can be healed of all kinds of sickness, including HIV, through prayers,” said Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of Nairobi. “We usually guide them. We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave some seed money that they please.”
But the controversial ceremonies are raising red flags as believers’ conditions worsen, and a debate has opened over whether science or religion should take the lead in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.
Religious leaders in Africa strongly rebuked President Obama’s call to decriminalize homosexuality, suggesting it’s the reason why he received a less-than-warm welcome during a recent trip to the continent.
In a news conference in Senegal during his three-nation tour, just as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on same-sex marriage, Obama said African nations must grant equal protection to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally,” Obama said. “And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”
ON A MILD morning in July 1997, a group of women gathered under the spreading arms of a great neem tree in the village of Malicounda Bambara in Senegal, West Africa. While children played nearby and others rested on their mothers' laps, a woman named Maimouna Traore spoke to the group.
Like most women in Malicounda Bambara, Traore had never gone to school as a child. Opportunities for education in villages like hers were scarce, especially for girls. But one year earlier, a program called Tostan (the word means "breakthrough" in the local Wolof language) had come to her village. The women enrolled in the Tostan program met three times a week, engaging in lessons on literacy and math, health and hygiene, problem-solving—and, most important of all, human rights.
Addressing her words to Molly Melching, Tostan's founder and the one American present among them, Traore said that, before the program, women in her community did not understand human rights. They did not know that, like men, they have the right to health and well-being, to speak their minds and offer their opinions. With their new understanding of these concepts came courage. They invited Melching because, after much thought and discussion, they had made an important collective decision: to end the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in their community.
Melching was speechless. Rarely discussed openly, FGC, the complete or partial removal of female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is a long-held and deeply entrenched custom in many villages of Senegal, as well as in 27 other African nations. Known locally as "the women's tradition," it has been regarded as among the most critical moments in a girl's life, preparing her for marriage and making her a respected member of her community. To not cut one's daughter was unthinkable—setting her up for a lifetime of rejection and social isolation.
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