A BURY woman who has spent 20 years helping people with AIDS and HIV in Guatemala has returned home for the summer to mark the anniversary.
Sister Dee Smith has dedicated herself to supporting those suffering from the conditions, by setting up clinics, providing education and establishing a hospice.
Sister Dee will be back in Bury next week to give a talk about her work, and to meet the Mayor of Bury, Cllr Michelle Wiseman.
The 60-year-old is part of the Maryknoll sisters, a Catholic group of missionaries, and joined the order in 1992.
She has been living in the remote Guatemala region in Central America for the past 20 years, returning home about once every three years.
Since then, Sister Dee has helped to establish Project Life, which includes 10 HIV clinics providing medicines and support, and a hospice for terminally ill people who have contracted the disease.
Throughout that time, Sister Dee says attitudes towards the disease have changed.
She said: “When I started there was very little interest; it was very difficult in the beginning. People didn’t want to say they had HIV, and there was tremendous stigma attached.
“But now there is more access to treatments. At first, people were living about two years from being diagnosed because they were being diagnosed very late, but now we try to take a preventative approach.”
Before becoming a missionary, she graduated from St Mary's College in London with a degree in education in 1976, and travelled to Kenya where she taught English in rural schools.
Kenya was where her interest in the field was first sparked.
She said: “I had lost some friends to HIV when I was in Kenya, and at that time we didn’t even know it was Aids.”
Guatemala is known to have one of the highest crime rates in Latin America but despite this constant worry, Sister Dee has vowed to continue her work out of a sense of duty and commitment.
She added: “I have wonderful friends here. I live in a rural area and there are lots of beautiful animals and nature, so that helps to keep me going.
“By doing this, I can help to try and create a better society.You have to put your actions where your mouth is.”
Sister Dee will give a talk at the Caritas Centre, in Peter Street, at 2pm on Monday.
For more information call 01706 212036.