Labor Day is defined by Wikipedia as an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Nobody works harder as an advocate for those coping with HIV/AIDS than OTA’s own Kathi Winter. On this Labor Day we recognize Kathi’s contribution, courage, and commitment. Her story is a powerful, inspiring testament to her exceptional character and her faith.
Outreach to Africa celebrates Kathi for her remarkable contribution to the work we do in Uganda. She has used her life, circumstances, and faith to encourage and bless others through her advocacy work in Uganda, the USA, and so many other places in the world. Kathi could have given up, but instead she found strength in God and used her enthusiasm and courage to take action.
Kathi Winter shares her story and invites others to get involved with Outreach to Africa.
My name is Kathi, and I have been HIV+ for 17 years. I have been involved in advocacy for those living with the virus for quite awhile. I met a woman named Evelyn Komuntale at church; she was a wonderful woman from Africa with a huge heart for the orphaned, widowed, sick and vulnerable in her home country of Uganda. So when I found out my blood test was positive for HIV, I knew who I could go to for love, comfort, support and prayer. Evie was there for me all the way, getting through those first few months was very hard, and back then the severe stigma and judgment was rampant. Evie loved me, cried with me, and brought me out of my shell. We decided to start an organization that would serve the orphans in Uganda who have been so unfairly affected by AIDS. Evie encouraged me to turn my situation into something positive, and we really jumped into the work of finding U.S. sponsors for Ugandan children.
The number of grandmothers with 8-10 kids in their household was astonishing. On my first trip to Uganda in 1998 we spent 8 hours taking photos of kids (and their grandma’s) and gathering stories. There were hundreds in line, and I just cried as I was so overwhelmed. However, I saw that Evie was well-known and respected in Kampala, and particularly in Fort Portal, where she grew up, She knew everyone, and vice versa, and Evie’s love for the kids was contagious. I began to speak with those who knew they were infected with HIV, and we started support groups in the village on the border of Congo where we now have a major medical clinic. Quickly, over 80 women joined the group, and I began my effort to educate about protection (of those infected too), and nutrition, and palliative care.
We spoke on the radio, appeared on talk shows, and it wasn’t usual for an older white woman (me) to stand up before church congregations to remind people that being sick isn’t a sin. I was given access to speak about HIV from a non African platform. This was a good thing, it showed Ugandans that they weren’t alone, and that we in the west wanted to care and pray for those who have been devastated by HIV.
Since that time, we have built a school for over 300 children, have two major medical clinics, and are planning for a birthing unit in Fort Portal with the help of our teams from Arizona and Canada. In addition, we have Tree of Life Church; where often over 200 attend on Sundays. This area is a rural society and when I am there, I have had the opportunity to speak from the pulpit about issues like tithing (they bring some of their crops to put on the altar- it’s so sweet), and forgiveness (a big part of living with HIV), and judgment- stigma still exists in Africa as many think the disease is from the devil (Literally). The orphans who are infected are shunned, and kicked out of villages. Women lose their households and access to children, there is lots of fear. HIV affects societies economically, socially, physically, and spiritually- at all levels. There is much to teach about and many lives to touch.
I have been so blessed to use my disease to speak about God’s love, mercy and joy in seeing us be kind, turn away from sin, and follow the path that He has set for us in the Bible. I love going to Uganda as my faith is raised to new levels every trip – this is now my 16th journey in the spring of 2013, and it won’t be my last God willing. I love Africa, Uganda, OTA, and being a part of helping even a little to ease the mental burdens of those that are sick or fear they might be.
Going to Uganda gives one a chance to reach out and help wherever it’s needed. You just don’t know when that opportunity will present itself. Nevertheless, one has to go to find out, and I could encourage anyone with a medical certification (dr. or nurse) to take advantage of our free air tickets on Emirates Airlines. They so graciously give us passage for medical teams to work at the schools and in the clinics. For others, there are opportunities to counsel, build, educate, farm, sing, play sports, love on the kids, and so many other areas that need us from the West as volunteers to help augment their plans.
The food is great, the accommodations comfortable, (western toilets), and it’s easy to see a lot of the country in just 10-14 days in Uganda with OTA’S GOSPEL SAFARIS. Spring and fall are excellent times to travel; airfare is higher in the summer, but for teachers, it’s a good time to visit as school isn’t out until mid July- mid Aug for break in Uganda. We just encourage those who want to make a difference to come, just once, and I guarantee you’ll want to return. The people are lovely gentle, and friendly, speak some English, and love us to be there. Uganda is beautiful with rolling hills, banana leaf covered farms, and superb hospitality. Do consider coming.
For anyone reading this that has been involved in HIV in any capacity, please write to me. I have been on the board of OTA since the beginning and can answer questions you may have or comments you’d like to make. Evie wrote an interesting article about why bother with Africa’s children when we have so many here in the U.S. that need assistance? Yes, there is a great need worldwide to spread God’s love – but it has no boundaries – His love is for all children and people who are in need. I spend 98% of my life in the U.S. and try to work here too making a difference for the needy. However, why not spend the 2% of my life helping overseas, where a little encouragement goes a long way. Giving hope is a worldwide need, and we are called to be His messengers. It’s truly a privilege to work with OTA and visit Uganda yearly. Won’t you consider joining us?
PLEASE CONTACT ME AT KATHI@GLOBALINC.NET with any questions or comments.
– Video of Kathi’s story from Saddleback Church HIV&AIDS Initiative
Stats from Uganda AIDS Commission, 2011 National HIV Indicator Survey
‘Uganda had made great progress, but now infection rates are rising again.
2007 – 105,000
2008 – 110,000
2009 – 124,000
2010 – 129,000
Prevalence rates i.e. proportion of Ugandans, age 15-49, who are infected has risen and now stands at 7.3% (and even higher in women at 8.3%), and up from 6.4% in the 2004-05 survey.
- Only 2 out of every 10 Ugandans know their status.
- Less than half of those who need to go on antiretroviral treatment actually get treatment
- The highest percentage of transmissions is among heterosexuals.
- Mother-to-child transmission are the next largest demographic in transmissions rates, and many of those stats can be attributed to the unsafe sex practices of their parents. This highlights the need for continued education and focus on personal accountability.”