The HIV plague is severely affecting young people but even more women, who are also victims of violence and outrage. A religious institution has established the Hakumana project (which means ‘let’s meet’ in the Ronga language) in order to face these challenges. We went to visit the Hakumana centre.
At the entrance door, under the sign that informs that one has arrived at the Hakumana centre, there is a drawing representing the Good Samaritan of the Gospel. The centre is located at Matola on the outskirts of Maputo, capital of Mozambique. Here, the sisters from five congregations work together: the Mercedarian Sisters of Charity, the Comboni Missionaries, the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary and a congregation of diocesan sisters in Maputo, who are characterized by their Franciscan charisma.
More than 10 percent of Mozambique’s population aged 15-49 is HIV positive. Women, along with the problems associated with this disease, have to face stigma, domestic violence, loneliness or poverty. The Hakumana project was created in 2008 in order to provide both material and spiritual support to those affected by HIV.
Sister Manuela de Sousa, a Mercedarian Sister of Charity from Portugal who is in charge of the centre, says, “People with HIV are often poor, emarginated and abandoned. We look for them, we give them hospitality and offer medical treatments, but we also accompany and assist them psychologically and spiritually in order to safeguard their dignity”. The Hakumana is a day centre that is currently serving about 280 women with their children, about 70 old women and about 50 men, who have come to look for what they cannot find anywhere else: health care, food, psychological support and company.
“Children here can find other children to play with. We offer a comprehensive project”, Sister Manuela de Sousa explains to us, “most women who come here are alone, without a husband. And those who are married often suffer problematic situations such as violence in their own family. Men with AIDS often abandon the therapy due to their weak acknowledgment of the importance of completing the process, and also because they misunderstand the information provided by doctors and believe that their wives are those who suffer from the disease and not themselves”.
Since the centre opened its doors in 2008, it has expanded, more structures (medication preparation rooms, dining areas etc.) have been built and the number of staff and volunteers has increased. The centre carries out its work in three areas: Information and Training, Guidance and Counselling (where psychological, spiritual and legal guidance is given), Social Action (including medical support and food).
Sister Angelina Zentis, a Comboni missionary, takes us to a circular open area covered with a dried grass roof where we can see a young blind mother who has had twins and who has been abandoned by her husband. It is amazing how smoothly she changes the diapers of her children despite the fact that she cannot see. There are other women who are sewing, making baskets, others are cleaning the centre in order to make it always look a clean and pleasant place.
When women arrive at Hakumana, they fill forms in order to furnish information about their family, health, social status, profession, but the majority of them do not have a job. Then they are taken to the infirmary to get a medical check. Afterwards they are offered psychological assistance as well as spiritual support, although most of them are not Catholics.
Despite the diversity of backgrounds, contexts and confessions, anybody is welcomed in Hakumana. More and more people are knocking at the doors of this centre, because they are aware that at Hakumana they can receive the support and medical treatments that they could never get, outside of there, in the street.
In this ‘Inn of the Good Samaritan’ in Matola, Sister Olivia does the dish washing, Sister Angelina tends to the infirmary and Sister Manuela de Sousa along with the other sisters, is always doing everything she can to provide those who knock at the Hakumana door with food, health care, psychological and spiritual support. At night, the religious return to their communities; they are tired but happy at the same time for making Hakumana be the place where people can meet.