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Health & Body

Through my network I come into contact a lot with others who also work in Africa. Nico Hollander is one of those people who dedicates himself to the cause in his work as a pastor. He lives and works in the Republic of The Gambia, a beautiful but very poor country.

by Wil Groot - 03 December 2019

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The Love of Sharing - Social Stigma in Africa


Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar



Nico is pan-sexual - he loves people. We get to discuss HIV.

What is the HIV situation in The Gambia?
“It is completely in the closet. There is no education on the subject.”

Do you council or coach people with HIV?
“Not specifically, only when it comes my way. It is difficult to find people who are open to me about it. I work as a therapist in the psychiatric hospital, where people still wash by hand and cook on wood.”

I know that all too well, cooking on wood. Where I work, people also wash and cook that way. Are people open about HIV?
“People are not open about HIV here, because that would mean a death sentence.”

So, it is immediately clear to me that there is no work for me in The Gambia. But I understand that ever since your retirement, you have started working in The Gambia?
“Since my retirement, I spend a large part of my life in the smallest country of the immensely large continent of Africa - The Gambia - one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Nothing there even resembles The Netherlands. The weather is always good, it is in the tropics, the sun sets at 19:00 and rises again at 07:00. Every day it is beach weather. Beautiful powdery white palm beaches - at first glance a true paradise. However, appearances are deceptive.”

Nico at work as a social worker
“The majority of the population lives in indescribable poverty. The prices for electricity and groceries, for example, are just above Dutch levels. The average payment for a month’s work is about seventy Euro. There is no state welfare, and there is no public transport. Things such as water and electricity come and go, always unexpectedly. Healthcare is out of reach and unaffordable for most and is seriously inadequate, just like education. Ninety-five percent of the population experience shortages of almost everything. "

"The average age is below sixty and infant mortality rates set sad records. Nevertheless, the people in this predominantly Islamic country are friendly and hospitable. They stand ready to help each other out when help is needed. I live amongst them. As a spiritual caregiver I listen to their stories, and try to make connections between care providers and care recipients.”

Fishing provides food as well as an income
“The government seems far away, and it is mainly family structures and religion that determine daily life. Young people are therefore running into difficulties. All the dimes raked together usually are spent on doctors, or rice for the family. It is therefore almost impossible to work on your future. They dream of Europe, where there is no place for them in the hostel of prosperity. With trial and error, it is possible at times to start up a small-scale business, whereby part of the earnings is invested in maintenance and expansion. However, there are always shortages. Religion sets the standard in this country, the prospect of a better life after death is often the only hope. Everything is your own fault."

"If your child dies it is because of you, if your partner dies, you fall short. Here, God punishes mercilessly in the eyes of many. In the 1990s in the Netherlands, Christian public broadcaster the ‘Evangelische Omroep’ dared to proclaim that AIDS was the punishment of God, but that culture still prevails here. HIV = AIDS in this country. If you are tested positive for HIV (often unsolicited), you better keep silent about it, as the social stigma devil rules malignantly here. You then go anonymously to an outpatient’s clinic that is far away from home."

"There are plenty of good and free HIV inhibitors, but the consultation and any additional medication must be coughed up by the patient. There are contact groups available that are managed from the HIV outpatient clinics. People with HIV are still often expelled from the community. I know people who always carry their medication with them to prevent others from discovering it at home. It would be a true blessing if European NGOs were to make efforts to educate the population. There is still a lot of good work to be done.”


Oh well, what a world we live in, full of contradictions that cannot be imagined. Once again, I realize that the HIV social stigma is global and that the only way to get rid of it is education. Sharing knowledge, that’s what life is all about.
 
Nico also visits Dutch prisoners in West Africa. The prisons there are the rubbish bins of humanity.




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