Yesterday I met 11-year old Ainamanige Collins. Distraught and visibly bothered, Collins is one of the children who turned up at an Ariel Club meeting. Ariel was a child of Elizabeth Glaser, who passed away while young because the world had not thought about Pediatric medication for HIV Positive Children. Ariel clubs are meetings specially arranged for HIV positive children, where they meet peers, get medication refills, get their CD4 Counts done and generally have fun, despite their medical condition. But Collin’s problems were not under his skin, they were in the system he was born in. 1 of 5 children, whose farmer parents are left with no option but to send him to a public school. Collins has missed most of the second school term for lack of school fees. 12000UGX per term! At the end of the day, I told Collins not to worry about school, because the God he had just prayed to, as the meeting closed, had answered his prayer for school fees for the rest of his primary school education. After 1 day, and 1 prayer, at least in Collins’ eyes, there is hope.
2 weeks ago, I interacted with a man, a father of 4, whose wife has defied my logic, to give birth to their last 3 children and has remained HIV negative, despite his opposite status. He lives to tell the story of a woman who refused to look in the eyes of fear, who refused to bow to stigma, a woman who looked death in the eyes, and yet chose to walk thru the valley of the shadow of death. But it was the second person I met, that struck me. Twice, she has delivered HIV negative babies. Twice. In a family where a father will never materialize, and a mother will always be “sick” these 2 children will grow up to know that the work of health workers and scientists around the world led to the discovery and use of protocols and medicines that prevent the transmission of the HIV Virus from a positive mother to their unborn child. The country side is littered with hundreds of such children, and babies. And all we need to do is guarantee that we will do our job, and for every one of these mothers, and their unborn children, there is hope.
The thing about hope is that it doesn’t matter whether you are an American deep in Kasese as 2 of my friends; or that you have been torn from your comfort zone as I have; or that you are an unborn child. Hope is not for the rich or the educated, or as a popular luganda song puts it, of the ones who skillfully fly planes. Hope is for all of us.
Hope is what makes you look beyond the hills of Ntungamo, and know that the long dusty and winding road will lead to somewhere. So it’s been 1 month since I started work in Mbarara, 240km South West of my home town – Kampala! I have been fortunately blessed to travel, counties and countries alike, but there is nothing that really prepares you for leaving your family and loved ones.
I have no idea how I will make it. The usual advice is take 1 day at a time, and for me that one day has been a series of weekend commutes, a number of daily calls, and learning to tell between the official and street name of my suburb. Thankfully I can cook, so I haven’t starved. All I can say, for me, and for Collins, there is hope.
Hope, there always is hope!