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Nagel Grant for HIV/AIDS in Liberia
February 12, 2008

A Calvin College professor of nursing has earned a grant from the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity to research the role of faith communities in HIV/AIDS prevention in Liberia.

Dianne Slager photoDianne Slager, a nurse practitioner who has taught at Calvin for three years, will use the Nagel funds to travel to Liberia in late May of 2008 to assess knowledge and attitudes about HIV/AIDS among church leaders and to evaluate the HIV/AIDS information programs they offer.

“There’s a great denial in West Africa of the significance of HIV/AIDS,” Slager said. “Even now, people in Liberia will say HIV/AIDS is not a big problem there, but World Health Organization statistics contradict that.”

Slager will work through the Christian Education Foundation of Liberia (CEFL), an organization that offers training to 600 pastors from more than 200 denominations. In addition to assessing the programs which exist, she will also develop educational approaches to HIV/AIDS for pastors to use with their congregations.

"In places where AIDS prevention is strongest in Africa, the churches are deeply involved," said Nagel Institute director Joel Carpenter. "Professor Slager's project for working with grassroots church leaders across Liberia is very promising, and we are thrilled to be able to help a bit with funding."

Slager also hopes to work as a nurse practitioner on the trip, particularly in the villages of Liberia. “A lot of people working on the issue of HIV/AIDS are working in the cities,” she said. “People in the rural areas aren’t getting as much attention.”

The project will serve as something of a homecoming for Slager, who lived in Liberia throughout the 1980s, doing health work while her husband, Tim, worked in literature development. During that time, the Slagers worked for CEFL, and upon their return to the states in 1990, they began CEFL-US to continue assistance to Liberia in some form.

“We started CEFL-US so that we could raise funds to help Liberians who stayed there—who kept open a school much of the time, who kept open clinics 100 percent of the time and who also carried on pastor training throughout a long and grueling civil war,” she said. 

Slager has always wanted to return to Liberia, and she is eager to tackle the prevailing attitudes toward HIV/AIDS in that country. “HIV was a problem when I lived there in the late ’80s,” she said. “Monogamy is not a commonly held notion there.”

Yet while prevailing attitudes about the virus have played a role, she was quick to add, so has the health infrastructure of the country. “One reason people aren’t rushing to be tested is that testing only recently became available. Treatment only recently became available,” she said. “There are a lot of really good reasons why people have been reluctant to deal with it.”

Although Slager, who was recently approved to lead a Calvin Interim class to Liberia in January of 2009, is excited about her return to west Africa, she also has some anxiety about it. “I’ve always wanted to go back,” she said, “but it won’t be easy to go back. People have had a horrible time there.”

Her philosophy of missions is seeing her through. “We are all called to be ambassadors and missionaries,” Slager said, “and I’ve never been good at making excuses.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson


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