10 FEATURE Friday, June 30 2017 | NEW ERA Finding light in a dark place Nkole Nkole Lusaka She looks in the mirror now in disbelief at the sight of hair on her head even though she mostly has it covered under a head wrap. Her body too is not a strange thing to her anymore. It was August 2015 when she looked at a paper lying in her hands and read out a sentence beginning with the words: “It is with deep regret…” Sister Margaret Mary Chileshe had been a teacher of English for 32 years, retiring only in 2008. She knew that at the end of those five words could only be bad news. Unable to believe her eyes, she put the paper away and allowed herself to break down. When she retired from teaching in 2008, she was regional leader for the Sisters of Charity congregation; a role that required her to take care of the spiritual affairs of the sisters in the congregation as well as the day to day running of the whole congregation. She did this for six years until the year 2014. In January 2015 she decided to take a year’s sabbatical to relax and also to renew herself in spirit. She went to England first and took a renewal course. “That was beautiful. We were in Shrewsbury. I also visited relatives and friends in England before going to Ireland for a short while,” Sister Margaret recalls. After Ireland was Spain for some more spiritual renewal in Manresa. While in England, she felt a little lump on her right breast but she was too carried away with rest and relaxation to be bothered by it, especially as it was causing her no pain. The lump was tiny even when she returned to Zambia in July 2015. She was also still having the time of her life because her sabbatical had not yet ended. Around that time she started feeling a little pain whenever she tried slinging her shoulder bag over her arm. “My main reason for going to the hospital was just to get my tooth in, you know it was a private hospital, just for consultation,” she recalls. The lump was measuring the size a female doctor at the hospital. “So the doctor examined me and said she needed to consult another doctor. I said I didn’t mind and she rang the other doctor,” Sister Margaret shares. When the second doctor examined Sister Margaret’s right breast, he seemed bothered by what he felt. He did not believe the lump was innocent; in fact he was pretty sure it was malignant. He performed a biopsy on her and the results were sent to South Africa through Nkanza Laboratories in Lusaka. As someone who had taught English Photo: Zambia Daily Mail He faith has grown stronger… Sister Margaret Mary Chileshe thirteen days before her chemotherapy treatment in November 2013.arg for many years, she knew what the word ‘malignant’ meant but it still did not occur to her that her case was serious. By the time she received the results, however, the doctor’s fears were confirmed. The envelope was not sealed when she picked it up from Nkanza Laboratories in Lusaka, so she quickly opened it. Her eyes fell on the words: “It is with deep regret…,” but she could not muster the strength to read the rest. Cancer had always been foreign to Sister Margaret because no-one close to her had ever suffered from it. Now she was dealing with it. “I didn’t even know what it entailed. Maybe that for those with cancer, they die,” she says. She was to have surgery and chemotherapy for a start and absolutely nothing could prepare her for the horror that was to come. She opted to have her surgery at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) seeing the cancer unit is right next to the hospital. A mastectomy was done and then the chemotherapy cycles followed. “That is the world of cancer which is totally unique and I don’t think you could really explain it to anybody unless one has been through it,” Sister Margaret shares. All she knew was that her hair would fall off and she would feel some nausea and suffer from diarrhoea and perhaps her hands would blacken. That was about it in theory but the reality was different. She had never experienced anything as agonising as the pain chemotherapy gave her. Before starting the chemotherapy, she bought a hat which she planned to wear when her hair would begin falling off. She thought her hair loss would be gradual but by the tenth day from the commencement of the chemotherapy, all her hair had fallen off save for a strand in the front of her scalp. She stood in front of a mirror with a comb in her hand, in disbelief at the amount of hair that had come off from the roots. All the other patients at the hospital were losing theirs in bits but hers was coming off in bunches. She was to have six cycles in total and with each, conquering the mountain only got harder. She was not able to do anything for a while after each cycle, not even wash her own face and just as she would be starting to recover, she would be due for another cycle. “For me, with every cycle of chemo, I ended up in UTH being bloodtransfused or I would be sick for two weeks and I would just be recovering in order to go for another cycle. It was just a nightmare. During those six cycles I was not myself,” she shares. one left, she had just about given up and told her doctor she could not go through with it. She was too weak. “The doctor said I would be alright and they would prepare me in such a way that I would be able to go through it,” she says. But she was ready to die. Sister Margaret talked to her fellow sisters, who never left her bedside during the periods she was recovering from the chemotherapy. They said they would pray to their foundress, Mary Aikenhead, to make her well. Sister Margaret insisted that God’s will, whether it was for her to stay or go, prevail. The sisters started a novena, praying for her recovery and pleading with her to hang on. Somehow, miraculously, she made it through the last cycle. Ali naine (He is with me), were Bemba words which struck her when she went to chapel after her last cycle. With that, she felt as though life was returning to her body. The battle was uphill and her body was battered but she had faith that she would make it. With time, she watched little miracles take place on her body. The taste returned to her tongue, the natural colour to her hands and her hair, which she had lost from its roots, grew back. Apart from the intense strength of the human will, the experience has shown her the lack of information that exists on cancer in Zambia. “I think we need to do something that will help the people going through the trauma of having cancer. Lack of information is not a help,” she says. Cancer is not just scary for the sufferer but for the family members, too. Where was God in all this for Sister Margaret? “I am a nun and I knew God was with me all the time, surrounding me, and giving me the energy and strength although I was feeling strong. At no time did I feel alone. God was there.” All of her past prayers came to bear during the storm that she never ever saw coming but because of it, her faith is deeper and her life has more meaning than she ever thought possible. –Zambia Daily Mail
Friday, June 30 2017 | NEW ERA FOCUS 11 Photos: Moses Magadza Dr Esau Chiviya, Secretary General for the SADC PF. A woman and a young girl happily go through school work. Without a solid education and strong social safety nets, many women and girls fall through the cracks and become vulnerable. Staff Writer Windhoek Civil Society Organisations, United Nations agencies and other partners are working with the SADC Parliamentary Forum to hold the first ever Women’s Parliament in Mahe, Seychelles next week from Wednesday to Thursday. The organisers say the Women’s Parliament will bring together SADC women members of parliament, and their counterparts from other parts of the world, to critically discuss and sustain the engagement of parliaments to implement Resolution 60/2 of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The resolution focuses on women, the girl-child and HIV and Aids, which is still a major grim reaper claiming countless lives. Through Resolution 60/2, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) calls on governments, international partners and civil society to give full attention to the high levels of new HIV infections among young women and adolescent girls, and their root causes. As the Report of the United Nations’ Global Commission on HIV and the Law noted such root causes include a country’s body of laws concerning HIV and Aids. The evidence indicates that an enabling legal environment, including one that ensures both the legal and practical equality of women and girls, is much more likely to result in lower rates of HIV infection than a punitive one that enshrines historical inequalities. The SADC Parliamentary Forum is the deliberative body that brings together 14 National Parliaments in the SADC Region to discuss common issues affecting the SADC region as well as to support the regional integration agenda. Role of Parliaments Both the global Agenda 2030 and the Africa-focused Agenda 2063 recognise the essential role of parliaments and parliamentarians in achieving sustainable human development, including the achievement of healthy societies. Through their law-making Women’s Parliament to meet over HIV infections function, they may repeal harmful laws, and enact appropriate ones. Through their oversight function, they may monitor the implementation by the executive branch of good government public policy. And via their representative function, they may ensure the voices of the most vulnerable are brought to the table so that no one is left behind. These are all important reasons that have led the SADC PF to give particular focus and attention to the issue of HIV and Aids at the Women’s Parliament. Increased vulnerability Consideration of women and girls in the HIV discourse is a response to the high burden of disease among women and girls in the region and globally. United Nations statistics indicate that 51 per cent of all adults living with HIV globally as of 2015 were women aged 15 years and older. In East and southern Africa, women account for more than half of the total number of people living with HIV. Represented in actual numbers, the data shows 17.8 million women live with the HIV virus across the globe, of which 900,000 accounted for new HIV infections among adults as of 2015. The United Nations estimates that an estimated 2.3 million adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years, are living with HIV, constituting 60 per cent of all young people living with the virus. These statistics indicate the urgency needed by policy makers for countries to dividend that HIV and Aids threaten to jinx. Experts say that men tend to acquire HIV later in life, indicating that most of the infections among adolescent girls and young women could be attributed to intergenerational sex in which the younger sexual partners often have limited power to negotiate safe sex. Girls’ vulnerability in Southern Africa is further compounded by their low status in Photo: ARASA Ms Michaela Clayton is Executive Director of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARA- SA). a strongly patriarchal society. Against the background of often limited economic opportunities, gender-based violence and discrimination, entrenched gender inequalities, conservative harmful social and cultural norms, stigma and discrimination, produce a vicious cycle of HIV infection among women and adolescent girls. Safeguarding gains Dr Esau Chiviya, Secretary General for the SADC PF says the active involvement of members of parliament in general and that of women parliamentarians in particular, can be a game changer as the world responds to the HIV epidemic. “This Women’s Parliament is therefore being convened to drum up support among parliamentarians towards closing the gaps which leave women and girls vulnerable to HIV,” Chiviya says. Chiviya adds that although much has been achieved in responding to HIV and Aids at regional and local levels, there is still scope for more to be done. He cites as major milestones increased coverage of antiretroviral treatment, which has enabled more than 18.2 million people globally to access treatment. “Data shows that in Eastern and Southern Africa 54% (10.3 million people) of all people living with HIV, were accessing antiretroviral therapy in 2015. Access to treatment has contributed to the reduction of AIDS-related deaths from 2.0 million in 2005 to nearly 1.1 million in 2015. This is commendable,” Chiviya says. He says that thanks to a well-functioning and accessible Prevention of Mother–to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme, more babies born to HIV-positive mothers test negative for the virus. “Within the SADC Region, there has been a 66 percent decline in new HIV infections among children between 2010 and 2015,” Chiviya says. Be that as it may, experts and organisers of the upcoming Women’s Parliament recognise that this progress has not reached full scale because access to quality services, information and education across and within many countries in the SADC Region and beyond. They say far too many women and adolescent girls continue to fall through the cracks. The Women’s Parliament is expected to come up with a position paper, and interrogate the UNCSW Resolution 60/2, with a view to giving it much needed traction to close gaps and reduce the vulnerability of women and young girls to HIV. Over the two days of the Women’s Parliament, delegates will hold discussions around key thematic issues, which include accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for adolescent girls and young women, accessing safe abortion, addressing gender-based violence and addressing the unique needs of women and girls. Progress made but… Michaela Clayton the Director of the Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) says that although much has been achieved in responding to HIV, much remains to be done to ensure that no one is left behind. “Although we are encouraged by the gains made in the HIV response in the region, we are concerned that HIV will not be halted without addressing the HIV-related challenges facing women and girls, including harmful cultural practices and gender-based violence,” she says. She adds: “We are excited to co-host this Women’s Parliament as it presents a platform for civil society to explore how to work with women parliamentarians to hold governments accountable to their HIV-related commitments and ensure the implementation of Resolution 60/2 by governments in the region.” ARASA, with support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), is one of SADC PF’s key partners in organising this Women’s Parliament. ARASA is a regional partnership of 116 nongovernmental organisations working together to promote a human rights approach to HIV and TB in Southern and East Africa. Enter the elders Former Heads of State and Government, who are now part of Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, will be among approximately 120 delegates to this Women’s Parliament. nye Pohamba, the immediate former Namibian president, who won the world’s most valuable individual award, the Mo Ibrahim prize for African leadership in recognition of good governance and raising the living standards of the population. Another notable delegate is former Acting President of South Africa, H.E. Kgalema Motlanthe who served as president of South Africa between 2008 and 2009 after President Thabo Mbeki. Motlanthe is applauded for changing the South African Government’s stance on ARVs and rolling out a massive counselling and testing programme, while HIV treatment. Also attending is Her Excellency Dr. Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, former Deputy President of Uganda. She is position of Deputy President of Uganda and was in this position for nearly 10 years, from 1994 to 2003. She is respected for her public stance opposing domestic violence against women in Uganda. Her advocacy and over legislation to outlaw marital rape, ease divorce laws for women, grant property rights to wives and regulate polygamy. Sweden and Norway fund a four-year SRHR, HIV and Aids Governance Programme that SADC PF is implementing in seven SADC Member States. UN Agencies that include UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and SAFAIDS financially support SADC PF and the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus in organising the Women’s Parliament. UNDP is also providing expert input, including supporting the attendance of panellist Charles Chauvel, a former member of the Parliament of New Zealand, who also served on the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.