Paraguay: A wide-open door

OM International | Paraguay

Paraguay, a small landlocked country in the middle of Latin America, has what is considered to be a low HIV prevalence rate of 0.4 per cent 1. However, it has a high rate of stigma against people living with HIV, and gender-based violence, which increases a woman’s risk of infection, is an everyday occurrence for many.

Ciudad del Este (CdE), a city in the tri-border area where Paraguay meets Brazil and Argentina, is a hub of the sex-trafficking industry.

Most of those who end up being trafficked have come to Ciudad del Este because they are poor, vulnerable and believed the promises of traffickers who offered them work in hotels or restaurants. Most (90 per cent) are female and between the ages of 10-20 2.

Being in sex work increases a woman’s chance of infection with HIV by 12 times, and being young and trafficked increases her vulnerability to HIV further still 3.

Eighteen years ago, David and Judy Schmidt’s domestic worker, Alice, started to get sick and didn’t seem to get better. They took her to the hospital, where it was confirmed she was HIV positive and in the AIDS stage of the disease. Back in those days, treatment was harder to obtain and not as effective. Judy spent many hours by Alice’s bedside, nursing and feeding her until she passed away.

The things the Schmidts learnt and experienced in those days led them to begin a ministry to people living with HIV, in memory of Alice. In 2003 they started Alto Refugio 4 in the capital city of Asunción. The centre has become a well-respected drop-in centre for HIV patients.

Alto Refugio meets the needs that hospitals can’t—the social, spiritual and physical care and support of patients. Counselling, hospital visits, discipleship, a nutritious meal for patients who visit the hospital or have relatives there, day care for children whose parents are keeping hospital appointments, educational talks, and many more intangible things make it a safe place for people who are marginalised.

A couple of years ago, David and Judy sensed that God was telling them it was time to move on from Alto Refugio. They began to pray about what they should do next.

Through a series of events and open invitations from the medical fraternity, God laid Ciudad del Este on their hearts, and at the same time brought them together with OM International and their partner in HIV ministry, AIDSLink.

The Shmidts plan to move to CdE in early 2016 and begin working in conjunction with the local hospital’s HIV department to provide social and spiritual care for HIV patients. Within the first couple of years they hope to open a drop-in-centre for people living with HIV and then a care centre for those who need a safe place to stay.

They do not know exactly how God will lead them in this new ministry. Although sex work, trafficking and domestic violence were common amongst those they ministered to in Asunción, these issues are more prevalent in CdE and responding to them will be a new challenge. However, they know that God is in control and He will guide them. Over the next year they are praying that God would lead them to the right property to establish a drop-in centre, as well as a team to partner with them.

Please pray with the Schmidts as they establish ministry to those suffering from HIV in Ciudad del Este. Pray that God will establish them in ministry there and provide a property for the drop-in centre.

Published: Thursday, 22 October 2015
Credit: OM International
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flag-py Paraguay

Paraguay is a small and landlocked country in the hearth of South America.

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