Monday, October 24, 2011

Livelihood by Faith

Ratnamala works at Jamkhed helping others like her, specifically women, who had been downtrodden by trials and rejection.
Photo by Nyamah Dunbar/UMCOR.

By Nyamah Dunbar*

Jamkhed, India—By age 18, Ratnamala had already endured a forced marriage, experienced the birth and death of a child, and become a widow. Born into a poor family in rural India, she was married off to a man who, in turn, left her to pursue work in the city of Mumbai. When he returned to the village, he was already sick with diarrhea and chronic fever. Ratnamala would learn later that he had contracted HIV. Doctors encouraged Ratnamala to have herself and her newborn baby tested. To her devastation, both of them had also contracted the virus. It was then that the ostracism began: first from the housing development where they lived, then by neighbors, and, finally, even by her family.

Upon her husband’s death, Ratnamala sought refuge with her family, but fear and stigma caused them to isolate and neglect her and her baby. She would head out each day to a farm where she was finally permitted to work, but her meals and personal items were kept separate from the other workers and her family members. One evening, Ratnamala returned home from the field to find her baby dead from complications due to HIV. Also suffering from HIV complications, Ratnamala admits to being so devastated that she was on the brink of suicide. It was at this stage that she was brought to Jamkhed Hospital, where she began treatment.

At Jamkhed, Ratnamala learned more than the importance of taking her HIV cocktail medication. It was here that, for the first time, she learned the importance of caring for each other regardless of diseases or stigma. Her beautiful face lit up despite the sadness of her story, when she announced to me how she first learned about Jesus Christ, and how His message and call to service targeted people whose plight was not much different from her. Despite being born a Hindu, she converted to Christianity, because of the examples and teachings of Dr. Raj Arole, the late founder and longtime director of the Jamkhed Community Health Program.

After her positive response to treatment, Ratnamala decided to remain at Jamkhed to help others, specifically women like her, who had been downtrodden by trials and rejection. Ratnamala works on the Jamkhed farm program, which provides meals and local income-generation initiatives for families and orphans affected by HIV.

World AIDS Day is December 1. Observe this day by supporting the Jamkhed Hospital’s HIV and other programs, by donating directly to the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, Jamkhed, Advance #3020779.

Nyamah Dunbar is UMCOR grants manager for Imagine No Malaria.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gwyneth’s Story

Ten-year-old Gwyneth Cartwright’s $2 bracelets made of pop tabs have raised more than $300 to help people who have been affected by disasters.
Photo courtesy Gwyneth Cartwright

My name is Gwyneth Cartwright, and I’m 10 years old. I live in Hurricane, West Virginia, and attend St. Andrew UMC in St. Albans, WV. For about the last three months, I have been selling pop-tab bracelets through my church to help raise money for UMCOR. I have, so far, raised over $300 with these $2 bracelets that are made from pop tabs and various colors and types of ribbon. One bracelet takes ten to fifteen minutes to complete, and they are fun to make.

A fellow member of our church, who I’ve always liked a lot, stood in front of the congregation one Sunday and talked about UMCOR. He asked everyone to search their hearts for a way we could help. He also mentioned how he was going to raise money by asking for sponsors for a bike ride. I immediately knew I wanted to help, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I went to him after church and told him I’d let him know.

One day, it just hit me! I’d make the bracelets we had made at school as part of an Earth Day and recycling project. My mom set an email to Tim (the man who stood up in church), and I was in business. I made a few bracelets as samples and I got up during announcements in Sunday worship and asked for pop tabs. After a little while, I had over four pounds of pop tabs and lots of people asking for bracelets. And the tabs are still pouring in!

My mom and I have been enjoying this project. She helps a lot! I continue to make bracelets because I keep getting orders AND for the cause. I feel that UMCOR is an organization worthy of my time because I feel badly for people who have been hit by disaster. I saw images on TV of people after hurricane Katrina hit, and the looks on their faces broke my heart. I felt helpless. I told my mom that we had to help them. I was five or six years old then, and Mom told me about UMCOR I raised money at a lemonade stand and took it to church. I knew that UMCOR would put that $60 to good use. I also raised small amounts of money for tsunami victims and for the earthquake in Japan. Hopefully, this project can help for a longer period of time because I’ll continue until no one else wants a bracelet!

UMCOR can be where I can’t be. I’m only ten years old, after all, and in the fifth grade. Homework and activities keep me busy! I’m unable to physically go and help people hit with disasters. However, I can spend a few minutes here and there to help others be there and be hope for families, perhaps a lot like mine, whose hope has been shattered.

Gwyneth Cartwright