Retreats: Time out and a Time of Healing

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Caregivers on retreat in Mpumalanga Province









The SACBC AIDS Office received funding to support spiritual retreats for caregivers working in AIDS projects and grandparents taking care of AIDS orphans and children affected AIDS.
As one can imagine it can be quite stressful for everyone concerned, dealing with sickness and dying, and then having to make ends meet in what are often poor households where few if any of the adults are employed. Sometimes all the members of the household are dependent on the social pension of just one person, and in some cases on a grant received to support a child.
When we spoke to participants in the retreats they were full of enthusiasm for the time out they were being offered to reflect on their own lives, on the sometimes harrowing circumstances in which they find themselves, on their work situations and on how they cope with difficulties in their own families. They are not afraid in the safe environment of the retreat to acknowledge that in fact what they confront in their work situation often mirrors what they experience in their own families. “We have family members also infected with HIV, they say, “In fact some of us are also infected and we are on antiretroviral treatment.”
“I too am afraid to tell my child why he has to take medication daily when his friends don’t, even though deep down I know that if treatment is to work everyone needs to know and understand why adherence is important,” says Anna. “He doesn’t see me taking my medication, so now it’s harder still to talk. I need to find the courage and the right time to be able to sit down with him and tell him the whole story.”
“I am struggling right now,” says someone else, “with tension in my family since my partner is not making a contribution to the household budget, but expects his meals and everything else. He is drinking the money he earns and it’s very challenging to the rest of us. I am also scared of violence. He did beat me once for no apparent reason. But I have nowhere to go and so I can’t leave him. Also I am scared for my children’s safety.
A grandmother shares her story. She is looking after twelve children, some of them very young and not yet at school. Two of her own children died and left her with struggling to keep the family together. “Three of the children,” she says are not her grandchildren, “but there was no one else to care for them.”
The retreatants share their stories, and their life journeys, and their faith. They enter the theme of the retreat, often linked to a healing message in the gospel, listening to those who lead the sessions, consoling one another in group sessions, deepening their prayer and trying to understand what God wants of them, experiencing forgiveness for their own shortcomings, participating in the Eucharist and in healing services. They learn new methods of praying and meditating, and appreciate the times of silence on their own. Too often silence is not possible in their daily lives.
In inevitably the consensus is that the time of retreat is too short, that the experience needs to be repeated later in the year. What also strikes us is that everyone says she feels called to renew her own commitment to the project she is working in. “It’s where I am meant to be, what God is asking of me at this time in my life.”