01 December 2014

the dream: an aids-free generation.

At Shalom Care House last week, a young girl walked into the classroom where I often work. Her name is Mary* and she's about twelve years old. I smiled when I saw her, because I always enjoy having her around. Mary is smart but more than that, she's very persistent. She rarely complains.

I hadn't seen her in awhile, so I started teasing her. "Where have you been?" I asked her. "Did you get lost?"

"No, I've been really sick," Mary told me.

And then, I remembered that she's HIV positive.

Every year, December 1st marks World AIDS Day and 2014 is no different. For the past 26 years, people all across the globe have used December 1st as a day to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and its devastating effects.

As many of you know, I work at an HIV/AIDS resource center in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving low-income clients and their children. In the United States, HIV/AIDS is a hidden disease. It rarely makes headline news. It's not something spoken about in our circles of friends and family, like cancer or diabetes. Americans who suffer from HIV/AIDS are often able to live normal lives, thanks to advancements in anti-retroviral medicines.

But in Tanzania, HIV/AIDS cannot be avoided, especially in my line of work. Of the 35 million people who are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, almost 25 million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. This means over 70% of those who live with HIV/AIDS live right in our backyard.

Mary is one of the few children whose status I've been informed about at Shalom Care House. The status of most of the other children I work with is unknown to me, but that doesn't mean I don't see the effect HIV/AIDS has on them and their families.

this is what happens why i tell our students to "cheka" or laugh!

John and Jean, a brother and sister pair, are two of my favorite kids at Shalom. (Yes, I admit, I do have favorites!) John, 10, is one of the smartest in my program and Jean, 8, has so much spunk. I hope Tanzania will be ready for their first female president soon, because she'd be the woman for the job.

I don't know whether John or Jean are HIV positive, but I do know they've been dealt a very hard hand because of the disease. Both their mother and father died from complications due to AIDS a few years back and up until about six months ago, they've been living with their grandmother, who barely makes enough for them to survive as a street vendor, selling roasted peanuts.

Then, six months ago, we learned that their grandmother had left them with a neighboring family while she traveled to the village to farm. Evidently, she believed that she could make more of an income farming than what she was making on the street. She hasn't been heard of since. I fear for John and Jean, who are totally reliant on the generosity of their neighboring family. I shudder when I think about what HIV/AIDS (and a horribly poor education system) will do to such bright, resilient children.

Like every other humanitarian day, your first question is, "What's my role in all of this?" Today, World AIDS Day, I simply ask you to inform yourself about this disease.

I'm listing some resources below if you'd like to learn more and what you can do if you'd like to get involved with World AIDS Day efforts.

Who knows? Within our lifetime, World AIDS Day can become a day of the past. Do you want to make it happen?

Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-Free Generation

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief

Twitter Feed: #AIDSFreeGen

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria

*All names in this blog post have been changed. Photos shown here reflect students at Shalom Care House but do not necessarily reflect the individuals mentioned in this post.

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