“The judge slid his glasses down his nose and looked over the tops at me.” We stood in silence in the offices of Sothemba (We Will Hope) AIDS Action as Jacque Pondo, an HIV/AIDS counselor with the organization, reflected on her own experience. Her husband had beaten her while she was pregnant. Bearing the marks of the beating, she stood, before the judge. “The judge slid his glasses down his nose and ask, ‘What did you do to deserve a beating.’”
Jacque’s grace and courage in recounting her tale and the horror of the tale illuminate the reality faced by women and the power of hope.
As in places around the world, HIV/AIDS impacts the women of South Africa with significant force. Women are not in a position to say no to men in matters of sexuality. In addition, the society, like so many others, is structured so that women are economically dependent on men. This economic reality reduces the number of options available to women and increases women’s vulnerability. Efforts to empower women personally and economically are key to Sothemba’s ministry.
Jacque Pondo personifies Sothemba’s simple and profound message: “live life with hope.” She is one of fifty Sothemba’s counselors, many of them volunteers, who work to nurture that hope. As well as the counseling ministry, Sothemba offers practical services to those infected as well as those affected by HIV/AIDS. Food is provided. Support groups are created. Awareness education made available. The organization endeavors to transform the prejudice, discrimination, and stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. Sothemba is the largest HIV/AIDS program related to BADISA, a joint ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church (synods of the Western Cape and Southern Cape) and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (Cape Synod). BADISA combines the social service programmes of the two churches and works to help congregations engage in efforts to provide relief and alleviate poverty.
Photo of Jacque Pondo by Joy Gaska.