Besides Sr. Gloria, the CONTRASIDA staff consists of a doctor, psychologist, secretary, and many volunteers, some of whom are also patients. The state provides the retrovirals but Maryknoll provides the “heart,” helping those who still suffer discrimination and stigma because of their disease. The center welcomes the patients in their poverty and addresses the secondary effects of AIDS. The patients appreciate the weekly clinic, and come to socialize in a safe and respectful place and enjoy a snack. The unemployed may receive nutritious staples such as rice and beans.
Volunteers help cook, prepare food packages, measure the physical condition of the patients, and distribute medications. They may accompany Sr. Gloria on home visits ministering to the patient’s whole family, always going in groups of two for safety. Gangs are strong in the area, and Sr. Gloria has to pay to enter her own neighborhood. Affiliate volunteers receive no pay or reimbursement for travel, but she buys tortillas for them and sometimes lunch, and she adds their names to the food distribution list.
CONTRASIDA also works to prevent AIDS through presentations to schools and communities. Sr. Gloria meets with a youth group each month, and a dance troupe and actors teach AIDS awareness and prevention. See http://fundacionCONTRASIDA.org
Over the years the Maryknoll Sisters have provided a great deal of financial and personnel support to the center. Sr. Gloria says her work is heartbreaking—not easy but satisfying. When Sr. Gloria leaves El Salvador to profess her final vows in 2018, no Maryknoll Sister may be available to replace her at the CONTRASIDA site. Perhaps the Maryknoll Affiliate volunteers can continue the “heart” that has characterized the Maryknoll presence.
*SIDA is the Spanish acronym for AIDS.