On the first Saturday of each month, 40 to 50 people meet at the Redeemer congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) in Bogotá. Often a new face joins the conversations about daily life, community concerns and what this group does.
Begun 10 years ago, “Walking Together” has grown into a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS. Membership is open to everyone and those of all faiths. For many affected by HIV, it’s the only place they can find assistance.
“We strive for zero discrimination on who can be a member of the group so we can reach our goal of zero new HIV infections in our communities,” said Ros Mary Rincon, coordinator of the IELCO’s HIV/AIDS work.
Lutherans in Colombia help raise awareness about HIV prevention and encourage those with HIV to live in dignity and claim their rights. They also engage in networking and advocacy with local and international civil society organizations and the government.
Redeemer’s efforts “are paying off and other churches are requesting support from [the IELCO] to start such support groups,” Rincon said.
About 190,000 Colombians are estimated to be HIV-positive. Most are women living in poverty who experience sexual and gender-based violence and have limited access to health care, Rincon added. In her work she supports women struggling to build sustainable livelihoods “as they also deal with gender and sexual violence, fear, shame and ignorance, and their obligation to provide for and protect their families, especially children.”
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