A difficult and long overdue post.
Tanzania’s population is dominated by young people and a vast percentage of those young people are orphans. One of the major causes of the high number of orphans is HIV/AIDS.
In 2012 Tanzania ranked 4th in the world in terms of the number of people who died from HIV/AIDS with 80,000 reported and diagnosed deaths. For ease of understanding good old blighty, United Kingdom ranked 58th with 1,000 deaths. Source.
Relevance to me, my life and therefore you, my faithful followers?
You got it.
Tanzania has come a long way, nowadays there is a programme of treatment for those affected. PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV). But what we are left with today, are the youth of yesteryear (2 of whom are pictured above) who were born in the late nineties and early 2000′. The chances of their mothers having had access to the treatment must be very low for one and impossible for the other. The programme started in 2000.
Over and above the two students within Good Hope’s free education programme as above we have at least two more students already sponsored and in formal school education. There are no doubt more within the community that mama Oliver cares for as part of our community support programme.
Nowadays HIV positive mothers, like our own 18-year-old ex-student, receive treatment which will massively reduce the chance of her new-born son Daniel having been born with the virus.
This delightful young woman is an orphan, bears the gift of HIV and has been exiled by her extended family since the pregnancy. She has no means of income or support, surely life can give her the gift of a healthy boy? Daniel will be tested shortly.
Our two students born in the early 2000’s bear the gift passed on unwittingly from their mothers. However, they are among the lucky ones, they survived against the odds most likely without any treatment or help until the PMTCT programme came about. These two are now receiving ART (antiretroviral therapy) medication and living near normal lives. Well, near normal if life lived in abject poverty is considered at any level normal.
When I think of these two students my heart swells with gratitude for their existence and breaks with sadness at the difficulties they experience daily. They both have information retention issues and can understand a lesson fully one day and have no recollection of the knowledge learned the next.
But… they survived the statistics.
Approximately 50% of HIV infected children not initiated on ART die before the age of 2 years, and of the surviving, about one-third die before 5 years of age
I think surviving the statistics is the least recognised of triumphs in the medical world.
Here I am today finally expunging the heart breaking issue that has troubled me for the past three weeks. Ever since Mama Oliver called me over and showed me the legs of one of those two HIV students . The impact those tiny little legs had on me was instant and deep.
Her legs are covered in horrendous boil like pustules and one single sighting tore down every defence I have carefully erected over the past three years. Bang. Gone. The walls crumbled and my anger, frustration and determination rose. I can no longer ignore the existence of illness in life.
When this young girl joined Good Hope in January she immediately begged my attention. Thirteen years old, a kitten like countenance in her need for love and succour. The least academic of all the students, a burden on the teachers sometimes because of her lack of understanding. But if you take time to know her and win her confidence, she rewards you with a wide shy smile. Mama Oliver told me back then that she was HIV positive and suffering from a skin issue which meant she couldn’t walk far or run and play easily.
I took that information in and did nothing with it.
I have worked at Good Hope for a year now:
Hey happy anniversary Gill and Good Hope, and in that year I have paid no heed to the home visits Mama Oliver conducts when she goes out into the community and visits the sick and the needy. I have acknowledged the presence of HIV within our student ranks with little more than a cursory understanding of what that means. I have chosen to ignore the plight caused by sickness for my own selfish (but entirely understandable reasons).
I have adopted the same attitude outside of work too and feel shamed by my inability to face up to facts and life. I hope that my attempts to face up to the plight of our two students will allow me to mend the gaps in my friendships caused by my hiatus of contact and support.
HIV human immunodeficiency virus leaves our two students vulnerable and open to sickness and disease. The young girl whose skin issues so utterly rocked my life is now receiving still more medication for a virus linked to poor nutrition but thankfully not HIV related.
The other of the two students is an older boy who would, if in England, be the epitome of a young English Gentleman. He is quiet, respectful, courteous, asks for nothing and complains about nothing. He is quite simply charming. Most days he is a bright, if quiet contributor to class. Every day he is a pleasure to teach. Some days he has difficulty writing his name.
Why does he and our younger girl exhibit information retention problems? I cannot do more than guess but they take strong medication to fight the HIV and I am sure that the lack of nutrition in their diet …
Hell no …. go back and strike that through.
I am sure that the lack of food in their bellies on a day-to-day basis does not help their tiny systems to digest and process the drugs easily. This is a massive issue which I am now focusing on. Probably 80% of our regular students come to school on an empty stomach. I mean empty, one meal a day is commonplace and chai (tea with herbs and spices) is considered breakfast. Remember that is for the lucky 20%.
I am working on a breakfast programme for the kids. The finer points need polishing but I will be seeking monthly donations to fund an ongoing daily nutritional breakfast for our students. Maybe £25 or £30 ($37.50 or $45) monthly to provide breakfast for x number of kids.
As I said last week sometimes you just gotta do it!
I digress as always. So the battle commences. It is better to join the fray late rather than never.
Here I am, joining the fray. Once again I hark back to my childhood fantasies of being a modern Boadicea and once again I acknowledge my shortcomings but hey ho, I got here and will fight as valiantly as I can.
I can promise no more.