Yes, priests can be badass. Exhibit A: Janusz “Dimpo” Prud, a Polish priest who organized a two-week bicycle ride across Botswana, Africa to raise funds for orphanages with children suffering from HIV/AIDS. Talk about travelling for a cause!
Dimpo didn’t know what was in store for him when he first arrived in Botswana in 1995. Although this priest from the Missionary of Divine Word Missionaries knew about the poverty and the rampant deaths caused by the HIV/ AIDS pandemic, he never expected that the first thing that would greet him during his first days in the country would be a funeral. “The funeral happening on weekends caught my eye, mostly because one village could have eight to ten funerals in one day. Most of those funerals were for young people, aged between 18 and 30, who just died of AIDS,” Dimpo says.
He also bore witness to the rampant discrimination against victims of HIV, from the way they were excluded from cooking food and sharing their respective families’ table to the way they were made to believe that the virus was divine punishment for a sin they have committed. The number of orphans also kept growing in Botswana because after the immediate relatives of the children passed away, nobody would be left to take care of them. “Young people lost hope for the future, parents felt despair over the death of their children, people of many religions were speculating whether the pandemic was God’s punishment or not,” Dimpo laments.
It was this depressing scene which inspired him to come up with the bicycle pilgrimage. Along with the African youth from Botswana, Dimpo organized the two-week bicycle ride as a form of prayer and a way to raise funds to improve the orphanages for children who were living with the virus. Dimpo covered a distance of approximately 1,500 kilometers from the north to the south part of Botswana, encouraging the communities he would encounter to join him in prayer. “The best hugs I ever received in my life were from those people infected with HIV / AIDS when I came back from the trip. They began to see the value of their lives and believe in a brighter future,” Dimpo narrates.
He further pushed the efforts to help the orphans by launching educational programs for Botswanian youths and adults, who also began to act on their own to help those who were afflicted with the virus. “People who lost hope started to wake up and make a difference in people’s lives,” Dimpo says, “We knew that creating a proper environment for their growth was very important to them and the society at large.”
After 15 years in Botswana, Dimpo travelled to the Philippines in 2010 to study Human Development Psychology in De La Salle University, Manila. He continues to do his best to inform people about the conditions of Botswana and to advocate against cultural insensitivity and discrimination against those who are afflicted with HIV. For him, understanding, proper education, and prayers are some of the best ways to do your part from this side of the globe.
Photos courtesy of Janusz Prud