Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Faith Healer. (Elizabeth Musaba in Person)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Faith Healer. (Elizabeth Musaba in Person)

Article excerpt

WHEN ELIZABETH MUSABA WAS A LITTLE girl growing up in Zambia, she used to think that her life was different from the lives of all the other little girls around her. "I used to think that there must be something more that I was born to do," she says, "and I'm still looking for that something."

She may still be looking, but her search has already taken her on a stunning ride from convent school student to AIDS activist in South Africa, the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic. Along the way, she's worn many hats: doctor, educator, researcher, wife, mother of four, and champion of women's rights.

In 1983, just three years into a medical career that took her from the former Czechoslovakia to England and back to Zambia, Musaba saw her first case of AIDS. Since then, she's seen thousands of people succumb to the disease. "As I grew older I've been asking myself, `What's missing? Why are people continuing to die from a preventable disease?'"

She concluded that too many resources went into curative work and not enough went toward prevention. Her answer was to start the Empilisweni Woodlands AIDS Education and Training Centre in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, South Africa's poorest province. Musaba is executive director of the 3-year-old center, which serves mainly women.

"Women are dying like flies because of their lack of information," Musaba says, acknowledging that women bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. "In Africa alone this year, we're going to see 2 million lives lost to AIDS. And most of those are people who are being taken in the prime of their lives."

Still it wasn't easy to be the voice of AIDS prevention. Although her original plan for Empilisweni--whose name means "healing place"--was for a big health center and treatment clinic, the local women weren't thrilled with the idea.

Instead, they wanted a place to address the hunger and poverty in their community. "We went in there with our big degrees, and they taught us more than we taught them. For them, it's only about survival."

So the center, which serves 21 villages, started micro enterprise projects like beadwork, gardening, and poultry farming. The local women honed their skills on these projects and made a little money and food in the process. …

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