CAFOD has been supporting an HIV and AIDS programme in the Diocese of Liaoning in the district of Shenyang for the last 4 years and I have been helping in the Diocesan Catholic Social Services Centre. It provides counselling and support to women and men living with HIV and AIDS.
The Centre works closely with the local Government Centres for Disease Control and this is something that is quite unique in the situation of China where the faith based organisations are not normally encouraged to work in the provision of health or social care.
The Diocese of Liaoning was invited by the local Government to contribute to the “building up of the harmonious society of China” by responding to the reality of HIV and AIDS in the towns and villages of the District. It is only the Centres of Disease Control which can provide the test for HIV and also give the antiretroviral drugs to people living with AIDS.
However, these Centres do not have the capacity to provide support or counselling to people living with HIV and AIDS and this is what the Catholic Centre was asked to do. This is the fifth time that I have worked in the Centre, providing training to the staff in pre and post HIV test counselling and helping them to understand and respond to the issues that face individuals and their families in the face of HIV and AIDS.
I am a Psychologist and Therapist and have worked in CAFOD-supported HIV and AIDS programmes in many parts of the world. I can therefore share this experience with the staff of the Catholic Centre and also with staff who are working in the local Centres of Disease Control. It is a wonderful example of collaboration between a local Government and a faith based community.
Over the last months, there has been a serious dispute taking place between the Chinese Government and the Vatican about the appointment and ordination of local Bishops. While I was in Liaoning, this ongoing dispute had consequences for the Bishop there. It was thought that my visit might complicate matters further with the local authorities so I was asked to leave a week earlier than planned. It was very unfortunate as the training was going so well, and this will be the last visit by CAFOD as the support of the programme is now in the final months of the 4 year agreement.
CAFOD has felt very privileged to be part of this work and to see how local families living with AIDS have benefited from the support offered to them from the Centre.