Schenectady County

South African Hospice offers refuge for ‘the little ones’

As head of the Catholic diocese of Rustenburg, South Africa, Bishop Kevin Dowling has seen the devas

As head of the Catholic diocese of Rustenburg, South Africa, Bishop Kevin Dowling has seen the devastation that the AIDS crisis has inflicted upon the continent.

The suffering and the sordid conditions prompted him in 1993 to found the Tapologo HIV/AIDS Project and Hospice to provide a refuge for the estimated 2 million AIDS orphans, whom he called “the little ones.”

Speaking before the First Reformed Church on Sunday evening, Dowling recalled a little boy named Nelson who was discharged from a local hospital because they had no in-patient unit to care for the terminally ill. He had no family — all had been wiped out by AIDS. One of his workers had come across him in a shack, typically of the conditions in Rustenburg.

“He was curled up in the fetal position. He wouldn’t say a word. He was going blind from the disease and emaciated.” His workers cared for him and within a couple of days, Nelson was sitting up on the side of his bed. The boy told his caregivers how grateful he was to be in the Hospice. “ ‘There’s clean sheets, clean bedding every day. They feed me so well and they love me,’ ” Dowling recalled.

Although there was no cure for his illness, Dowling said at least Nelson died in an “atmosphere of love.”

Dowling’s program also provides education and outreach, home-based care and retroviral treatment.

Dowling told about 50 people in attendance that God calls on people to be the presence for the little ones of the Earth and help them.

“God chooses to be without hands except ours; to be without eyes to look into the eyes of others, except ours,” he said.

Dowling was on a visit to the United States to attend a Hospice convention in Washington, D.C., and visited the First Reformed Church of Schenectady and the First Reformed Church of Scotia.

Five members of the Schenectady congregation have visited South Africa in the last year to help with the Hospice ministry.

Two more members are going this summer, according to Karen Hamm, grief counselor with The Community Hospice.

Hamm said she is trying to get other churches involved in the effort.

Dowling has come under criticism from some in the Catholic community for supporting the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

He said he favors abstinence and no sex until marriage. However, the conditions on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa make that unrealistic. Women are in desperate poverty and often cannot find work.

“So many of these women are forced into what we term, ‘survival sex,’ ” he said.

In this case, the condom is not being used for contraception but is literally a life-saving tool.

Dowling called it a “moral imperative” for someone who is infected with HIV to use a condom to prevent the spread of the disease. “If we can save some lives from this imperfect situation . . . we need to do it.”

Dowling has visited the White House on two occasions in recent years to discuss the U.S. role in combating the AIDS crisis in Africa. He also serves on the South African Bishops’ Conference Justice and Peace Department and has been actively involved in the Sudan peace process.

Church member John Assini of Schenectady said he was impressed with Dowling.

“I’ve met him before, and I think the life he leads and what he does is inspiring,” he said, adding that Dowling’s visit helps bridge the divisions between different faiths.

Dowling will be at Albany Medical Center’s pediatric teaching section today from 2 to 4 p.m. and will speak at The College of Saint Rose’s Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

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