A generation lost, a second to follow?

By Melanie Greenberg
October 19, 2011

Future foreign aid budget cuts pose a threat to children living at the Cabrini Ministry hostel in Swaziland, possibly wiping out a second generation of Swazis.

In a matter of months, millions of people suffering from HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa, as well as other struggling countries throughout the world, could die due to the budget cuts being debated in Congress right now.

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, Sister Barbara Staley, a member of the Cabrini Sisters, urged students and faculty from all areas of the college to join her in advocating to senators and congresspeople not to cut funding for poor people suffering from disease in Africa. She traveled to advocate in Washington, D.C. from St. Philip’s, Swaziland, a country the size of New Jersey. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world–roughly 40 percent. Swaziland also suffers from the highest rate of tuberculosis.

Just as the Cabrini Sisters were set to leave Swaziland in 1990, “the three letter plague hit. And that three letter plague is AIDS,” Staley said. “Everything has been absolutely torn and weakened in Swaziland. It is my life because that is what drives and directs every Swazi.”

Since 2004, Staley and Sister Diane Dalle Molle have run a hostel for children of all ages orphaned from the epidemic of AIDS. Currently, they educate and care for nearly 450 children and care for 3,000 suffering from HIV/AIDS.

The Swazi people to be affected by the potential U.S. budget cuts  are unaware of the proposals being made in Congress, let alone the impact it will have on their lives should the proposals be passed. These people are illiterate, uneducated and unaware of life outside of their own chiefdom, according to Staley.

Less than one percent of the United States’ federal budget goes toward international aid, an amount many consider insignificant to our economy, yet incredibly vital for those who will be hugely impacted–the people who can least afford it. Staley is calling for students and faculty to advocate against the cuts that could slash AIDS relief and food aid up to 50 percent.

Staley spoke to five Engagements with the Common Good classes that are focused on Swaziland and HIV/AIDS.

“Let none of us get involved in doing charity work. What most people call charity work is ‘Gee, I give you something so I feel good about myself because I’m giving you something,’” Staley said. “You know what? If I give you something it is because you need it and you have a right to it, so I’m only doing what I am supposed to do. I am not any better because I helped give you what you have a right to but for some reason have not been getting. If I work in a soup kitchen, that’s great but I am not better because I am helping people eat. I am only doing what I have a moral imperative to do because everyone has the right to eat.”

Cabrini Missions’ annual budget is $750,000, spending on average $1,200 on each child. Staley and Dalle Molle are committed to raising that money through private donors and PEPFAR. Both sisters sometimes doubt what they are actually doing to help those in Swaziland but their determination has raised $5 million in the past six years.

The missionaries do not depend on any one source of aid because any donor is a risk but at this point in history, 60 percent of that money is from the U.S. Agency for International Development. While they are looking for other means for funds and other safety nets, the budget cuts will highly impact their work. PEPFAR this year alone will donate $550,000 to the Cabrini Ministries.

The money that is poured into the country is “a pure diamond,” according to Staley. “They have no clue what that money is to them and they don’t need to have a clue if it is helping them live.”

With many examples of countries losing a generation and surviving in history, “there is no place in history that ever shows a peoples surviving the loss of two generations,” Staley said. “Swaziland is on the cusp of losing another generation and I don’t know what that means for the people or any of us.”

The Democrat and Republican members of the 12-member deficit-cutting panel, each with equal strength, have until Thanksgiving to come up with come up with a plan to submit for up-or-down House and Senate votes in December.

Should the super committee decide to cut international aid to reach their $1.2 trillion goal in the next decade, Staley is determined to continue the work she said God willed her to do.

“Please, don’t let there be another orphan in this country. We are living in a country that one half of its children are orphans,” Staley said.

“I know the patients and their families and I know they are not some ‘kind-of-human’ person, but they are real people that I truly love,” Staley said. “If we lose funding for medicine, I’ve lost their lives and even worse than that, we’ve lost another generation of Swazis. And then we will have all the more orphans.”

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Melanie Greenberg

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