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Saturday, 23 June 2018 20:26

Salvadoran Affiliates and CONTRASIDA

Written by Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss
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Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss – Portland Chapter

CONTRASIDA* was the mission of Maria Recinos and Irma Ventura de Ábrego years before they began attending the Maryknoll Affiliate gatherings. Dr. Mary Annel, MM, founded the CONTRASIDA Center in the 1990s in one of the poorer districts of San Salvador, El Salvador. Sr. Gloria Ardenio Agnes, MM, is now the only Maryknoll sister at the CONTRASIDA Center, but several other of the Salvadoran Maryknoll Affiliates also volunteer there. Affiliates and CONTRASIDA volunteers Norma Araujo de Orellana and Luis are in the photo. Affiliate Irma, not pictured, said she had worked with Sr. Mary  (who only recently returned to the US due to illness) at CONTRASIDA for 13 years.

Sister. Mary initially wanted to elevate the dignity of the AIDS patients, to prepare them to die, but now the center prepares the patients to live fully. Their 170 patients range in age from 2 to 74 years. After receiving retrovirals, one patient has now survived 22 years.

At the CONTRASIDA Center: Maryknoll Affiliates Luis, Norma Araujo de Orellana, Cecibel De Flores, Sr. Gloria Ardenio Agnes, MM, Maria Recinos, and Fr. John Spain, MM.

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.


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