Yesterday was World AIDS Day. December 1st. Which this year, was also #GivingTuesday and it overshadowed a very important issue — AIDS. So, I’m giving it its OWN DAY, today.
The vast majority of the children in Village2Village Project have lost one or both parents. When you work with orphaned children in Africa, you are face to face with the reality of HIV/AIDS. Due in large part to the AIDS crisis in Uganda, the MEDIAN AGE is 15. The MAJORITY of the Ugandan population is under the age of 15. 70% of the population is under the age of 25.
Our children stay with surviving relatives within their cultural context. Early on, it was clear to us that giving extra care to our HIV+ guardians (a surviving mother, a surviving grandfather) was not only the compassionate thing to do, it benefited everyone. With proper nutrition and consistent medication someone who is HIV+ can live a long, productive life. And while the availability of medicines for pregnant HIV+ women has increased in the village, sometimes the HIV virus passes onto the child. When we learned of desperate families whose school aged children were also HIV+ we accepted them into our program. This was the BIRTH of our HOPE Ministry.
This is SUCH important work.
One of the most powerful things we do is consult with our (now) teenaged HIV+ children who, because of the stigma of HIV/AIDS, might be tempted to resist or refuse to take their ARV medications. It’s heartbreaking. They are young. They want to believe they are not sick. Because of the ARV medications, their outward appearance is health and wellness. And yet, if a child neglects taking their medication, the HIV virus gains strength, and will eventually progress to the point where CD4 counts are below 200 and the diagnosis shifts to AIDS. As all parents know, it is powerful to have other respected people affirm what you are advising your child. HOPE Ministry has earned the trust to play that role in the lives of children in our program.
Our HOPE Ministry Staff meets monthly with HIV+ guardians in our program so that they can provide support for one another, and ask questions or resolve problems in a safe environment, free from stigma.
HOPE Ministry is also there to provide assistance when one of our guardians fall ill. Advocating for their medical care, monitoring their progress, ensuring they are getting the nutrition and medicines they need.
HOPE Ministry provides a monthly allowance for additional food which is essential to tolerate and keep down ARV medications, and adds strength to a weakened immune system.
This Worlds AIDS Day, we remember those who are living with HIV/AIDS, longing for acceptance, seeking care and good health. We remember those who have worked so hard to develop medicines that truly provide the opportunity for a full life with HIV. We remember those who have fought hard to raise awareness and breakdown stigmas. We remember our HOPE Ministry Staff, the caregivers, family members and friends who have loved on those who have HIV/AIDS. We remember those who have died too soon. We remember all of their lives, and give thanks.