God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

IAS conference 2017

Fragments of thoughts and impressions

It is my first IAS conference I have attended and compared with the World Aids conference it is a smaller crowd: round about 6000 people from all over the world coming in Paris together to discuss developments in the fields of HIV and Aids.

The first impression is that the conference is much more academic and discerning – it feels that most talks and presentations are indeed on a much higher academic level then at local Aids Conferences or the big world conference.

I am staying at a hotel outside Paris in Nanterre a commune in the Hauts-de-Seine department, the western suburbs of Paris. It is located some 11 km north-west of the centre of Paris. It feels strange – and from the beginning I can feel people have to live in a way which does not support human interaction – it feels cold, just doing the job of housing people without consideration on the human desire to live in a nice and friendly environment. It’s a sort of shock for somebody living in South Africa – it is strange but it feels like as soul-less place. The hotel is situated on top of a commuter train tunnel and station – every now and then one can feel the coming and going of a train while laying in bed.
So I guess all is there to sustain living and working, there are high rising buildings and all kind of services, but the thought I take with is that I can understand such suburbs create problems and even violence.

The mix of people here is amazing – mostly and certainly from the African region of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – it feels non-European in a European way – figure it out what it means.

And travelling to the conference centre – using the train and the metro – being part of a huge crowd in the morning and evening entering and exiting the dark alleys of the underground world – being part of the endless movements of people pushing their way through the crowd to reach their daily destiny – it is breath-taking – but not in the usual sense of the word. I definitely recall all my blessings living with some space and lots of day light in South Africa.

The conference itself is for a non scientific person sometimes difficult to follow – but I guess it is not about the exact details of every molecule one has to understand, the sheer feeling of understanding the principle – the idea behind all the details – the sometimes keen thoughts and trials and errors are a fascinating mental adventure – it stimulates my brain and forces me to read and study and “google”  – I have to admit that is a great experience to be beamed for a while into an environment really challenging you on knowledge and understanding.
But I believe that people running organisations must have at least a grasp about the background work done and the driving forces behind new developments before they reach the grass-root scene to be put into practice. Fruitful communication, bridging the gap between science and grass-root as HOPE Cape Town is trying to achieve on a daily base means for those in charge constant learning and communication with all spheres of their work environment.

Last but not least it was great meeting people from other countries and engaging in discussions – learning from each other and about each other and feeling the compassion of trying to rid the world of a viral onslaught. And yes, there is of course also lots of business – lots of calculation, but even there, you very often sense that those being employed in the big pharmaceutical companies understand that there is humanity needed in business. The connectivity of the global village, the threat that a virus can easily come and bite those far away helped indeed to change some of the attitudes which governed such entities a decade ago. Surely there is still lots to optimize and clarify – a balance must be put into place between commerce and humanity but I guess the battles of treatment have brought some clarity and movement into the field. Well, a watchful eye seems to be always necessary when it comes to that topic.

I will leave Paris tomorrow with lots of new understanding about the work done in the laboratories of this world. I leave proud knowing that our very board member of HOPE Cape Town, Prof Mark Cotton co-chaired the CHER study which produced one of the most published results of the conference: the child for 9 years in remission after being treated as a baby. I leave motivated knowing how many people dedicated their lives and career to fight back a pandemic which brought so much death and sorrow onto human mankind. It simply feels great to be part of a movement which has the goal to end a pandemic and give people a chance to live life and sexuality without fear. To live and to love to the utmost in their lifetime.

The only question I was wondering – how many other priests or clergy have been to this conference – not that it really matters but it would be nice to know that more of my fellow brothers are engaged on this level in a matter of live and death for millions in this world.

 

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Decolonization

The word “decolonization” is in South Africa a buzz word – especially among students it seems to be the holy grail of changing and transforming universities and centers of study and learning. The suggestions how to achieve it are indeed very diverse – up to the point that students demand to abolish traditional sciences and start anew to discover that the world is not flat. Obviously such ideas are not helpful and mirror quite a limited understanding of the world for a student and even put into question if a person with such demands has the maturity to study. Also burning libraries or destroying paintings and university property does not help in reaching the goal of “decolonization”.
For me the word has a much deeper meaning – reflecting on the history of colonization and the madness of today’s political leadership as seen in a President Trump or President Zuma I see the word rather more broadly defining the transition of human civilization in this global village into a new area. The advent of social media and the consequences of instant information of today’s news and the readily available information about the past, the history and – if reflected and the dots joined – its dynamics shift us humans into a new understanding of who we are and how we can live and should live together. People like Trump and Zuma are representing history, representing a lost world – comfy for the ones who want to keep it desperately and painful for those who are trying to flee out of it by all means.
Decolonization is needed for both parties – because both draw their movements and ideas from a past gone and in fear of the unknown coming in the future. Decolonization is practical, economical, academical and mental – and I bid, that when the real South Africa gets a chance to decolonize without all the political pressure and violence and corruption, it could lead the way and Africa could be transformed from a lost continent into the beacon of hope for the world. We have to start a meaningful conversation without creating a battlefield.

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Pentecost and Ramadan in exhausting times

 

 

 

 

 
Let’s be honest: our times are overwhelming in the moment – it is tiring to learn every day new scandals about our government, president and ministers and associates in South Africa. It is causing fatigue to see every day tweets and news from the US American president whose self-absorption trumps all his predecessors, adding to the complication of international politics. It is simply too much to watch the news and learn about new horrors of terror, killing sprees and war in our global village. And closing the circle and coming back to South Africa it simply creates sadness and incomprehension to read constantly about all the rapes and murders in a society having lost completely the moral compass.
“Enough is enough” one would like to shout and close eyes and ears to withdraw from all those stories, yearning for times of a “normal” life whatever it means for each and everybody of us.
Feeling helpless in the chaos of our times might be a normal reaction, but maybe such times remind us how important it is to know who we are and what we stand for. Maybe such times bring us closer together with those, who care, with those who mind more than their own business. Intact families and knowing the own values also helps as does speaking truth to power. Using whatever means one has to encourage each other and simply to do good, to do what has to be done and being a living example for others.
It is indeed difficult especially in South Africa to do so – the narratives of colored pain and historical entitlement versus prescribed guilt creates a sensitivity which is in danger to be the base for new injustices and for the time being complicates the ability to face all the challenges of life in our times.
We Christians celebrate Pentecost today – we believe that the divine spirit opens new doors and let people of different languages and faith understand each other. It is a reminder that our lives meant to be full of love, hope as well as tolerance and respect for each other. Pentecost opens a new dimension of faith being a tool to understand each other – it contrasts so greatly from those using faith as a tool of destruction or hiding place for their insults on the divine. Our brothers and sisters of Muslim faith celebrating Ramadan – a month of reflection and devotion to a God of Mercy. We should never forget in these trying times there is faith as a source of encouragement and rooting ourselves to withstand whatever is thrown at us. And not only to withstand, but to change and alter to the positive. The true meaning of faith: a source of hope…

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

A plastic bag with blood

Driving up the West-coast Road and listening to the news my thoughts kept swirling around one of the news reporting of the murder of 4 year-old Iyapha Yamile from Khayelitsha, found in a plastic bag close to her home early Monday morning. The reporter covering the case reported further of four suspects aged between 20 and 30 years old being arrested under the suspicion of this murder. I try to imagine what a person or a group of people could drive to murder a 4-year-old child – somehow it seems to me that the young age of the victim symbolizes how  sick society has become where murder or attempted murder is part of the daily local news.

The four-year old is only one of so many babies and children being killed and murdered on a weekly base – and for me, this mirrors the state of affair this country is in in the moment. If all the failed politics does not wake us up on the seriousness of trouble South Africa is in, the amount of murder, killings for gain or political reasons, the thousand of rapes and the destitute of people trying to make a living through crime should give us the wake up call we need to listen to.

We are living in a sick and hurt society – and what is needed are not revolutions or leaders still in combat mode and struggle mood but those who are ethical and concerned to heal the divide, to acknowledge the hurt, to see the disadvantaged, to listen to those feeling left behind and therefore to shine as an example of moral and ethical leadership.
If there is need for a radical economic transformation then it is radical in love, compassion and attention to detail, economic in a way, resources are used and the result must be the transformation of hearts and minds with an adequate education system and real chances to achieve a decent life without the tools of bribes, corruption or bullying through the ranks.

Let’s add honesty and leading by example – South Africa could then shine again as an example in the global village that there is a way to learn from the past, tackle the presence and achieve a future for all in an honest and human way.

 

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

Thoughts of an unapologetic whitey on #SaveSouthAfrica

I am reading the opinion piece “Here’s why white people cannot demand solidarity” – posted somewhere on social media under the headline “who’s rally call and why is it anyhow?”. On the morning of Friday, 7th of April 2017, the day most serious South Africans try to rescue their country from greed, corruption, downgrading and incompetent politics while MK “Speer of the Nation” soldiers still try to play war in front of Luthuli House my thoughts go back where I am coming from and what I have learned so far living 20 years in South Africa:

First and foremost: I don’t want and I will not apologize for being born white and in Europe – nobody chooses his or her place of birth – and whatever system is in place is taken in the beginning, till reflection sets in, as a normal environment.
I grew up in the small little town of Bitburg – those knowing the history of the city know that Bitburg harbored one of the biggest US American airbases next to Ramstein. So for me – in my childhood I was aware that people have different skin colors – which not really mattered – but we knew: black people are rather richer people as the US Dollar was strong at that time.
When I entered adolescence – news from South Africa were made more and more available and I learned about a small tiny Archbishop in Cape Town and the call for a boycott of South African goods. Empathy for the “poor suppressed black people” far away grew by the day – and I remember still very vivid how we followed the call of activism and tried to convince the adults: “Don’t buy apples and other products from South Africa”. I am not sure about the checks and balances at the end – but those small little and also big activities against apartheid were at least as much as important to bring down the unjust system like the liberation struggle on the grounds of African soil. Nobody has the copyright of solely liberating South Africa.

Having the chance to work in South Africa – the new South Africa with all the dreams and yearnings of the so-called and so often praised rainbow nation – and the possibility to personally meet and talk with my heroes of youth, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late President Nelson Mandela have been ever since highlights in life so far. Working in the fields of HIV in all different levels of society has grown my empathy and my understanding of the human race. I do reflect on where I am coming from, what advantages I have had in life so far – I see the dark and inhumane side of history in South Africa – but not only there: apartheid, colonialism, extortion, abuse of human rights – I acknowledge the role, Europeans have played and are still playing and I see the riches of African culture being often suppressed till today.

But I can only acknowledge and learn from the history and apply my learning’s with empathy  in the present time to create a future where mistakes of the past should be avoided. I can only continue to strengthen and communicate my firm believe that there is only one human race, that skin color does not matter for me and should not matter for anybody. As a Catholic priest being part of more than a billion faithful from all over the world I know what power lies in the faith of being just a brother or sister for each other under one divine mystery.

I also have learned from history, that liberation armies – look at South America or even Africa – need at least a generation to understand that they are not at war anymore but needed to transform in real political parties with understanding of what democracy means. So what we see in the ANC in the moment is history repeating itself because the cadres have not learned out of history and the poor will suffer again.

This is one of the reasons why I march today – reminding myself and others that we don’t have to go the same disastrous cycle if we learn of history. I do march today not because I want to have any privileges back or sustained or because I demand solidarity; it’s the other way around:
I give solidarity to those suffering the most: the poor, those who did not make it because of mistakes of politics, but also because of the greed, the corruption, the incompetence and the ignorance within our political system.
I march today for humanity, for the dream of those having given their lives in the struggle – millions of dreamers who either fought on the battle field or attended concerts to “free Mandela” or begged the people not to buy fruits from an inhumane system.
I march to keep going the dream of a just and non-racial society being able to see the pains of people and to be willing to start the process of healing guided by wise men and women in government, in churches and other institutions.

I march with empathy and solidarity for all and with all who share this dream knowing that there is a long way to real freedom, but if we walk together every day a little bit, we will reach it – a healed society becoming again the beacon of hope for a continent, which was long written off, but – and this is my firm believe – will be on the forefront of a renewed global village in the future – the cradle of mankind a living hope for all our brothers and sisters.

Filed under: Africa, chaplain, General, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 28th, 2017
3 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 5th, 2018
9 months to go.

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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