AIDS: The Abandoned Children
Part III First Day in Andhra Pradesh: After a hot shower, a few hours of good sleep and a healthy breakfast we headed out for our first day in Andhra Pradesh. We visited several Hope Homes (orphanages) over the course of the next few days. I will share one in this blog and one in the next that made a huge and permanent impact on all of our hearts. AIDS Children’s Home: The AIDS Hope Home for children is still under construction. We drove to the construction site to meet the pastor, his family and some of the children who will be living there very shortly. When we got to the site, there were 30 or 40 children lined up on either side of the dirt road singing for us. They each had little bags, cups or their hands filled with marigold pedals that they threw at us as if we were some kind of royalty. All of these smiling children were born to HIV positive mothers. The disease is active in only six of them right now. When this Hope Home is completed, it will house 65 children. Most of the children we met that day have already lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. The majority of them don’t understand that they too will one day die from this disease. www.hopegivers.org to see pictures; click on blog and Blogger without Borders! God gave this pastor, his mother and wife a tender passion for these kids. Their desire is to provide a loving home to these children for as long as they live. Several of the children – who have already lost their families – live with the pastor and his family in their one room home. This Hope Home will protect many other children from being abandoned to the streets once both parents are gone. Unfortunately, when the community learns that the parents died as a result of AIDS, they isolate the child in order to protect themselves and their children. With widespread illiteracy, most don’t understand that touching someone does not spread the disease. If Hopegivers does not take them in, these children will starve on the streets before the disease ever kills them. Mary and Patrick, my American friends, had a blast blowing up balloons with the kids and playing a game of keeping the balloons in the air so they wouldn't break. All of the kids were jumping around and screaming and yelling – wonderful laughter filled the air. While they played, I interviewed the pastor about several of the kids he is caring for who are already in stage 3 of the disease. They are the ones that tire very quickly. I watched as one of the children stopped jumping around and sat down to watch the others play. The pastor says he knows whenever the disease is progressing in a child. The child's energy level decreases and they begin to have a whole host of physical issues somewhere in their bodies. Symptoms vary from impaired vision, headaches, backaches and of course, unexplained weight loss. Four months ago the Indian government stopped providing medication to community centers around Andhra Pradesh for distribution to the HIV positive children. Community leaders have asked when the government will restart the program, but they have not had a response. Unfortunately, the six children living with our pastor are getting worse without the medication. Since we were going to be traveling another three hours to visit another Hope Home, we had our peanut butter sandwich and bottled water in the pastor’s home. It sits right in front of where the Hope Home is being constructed. At some point during our visit with the pastor, I noticed that it got very quiet outside – very unusual when there are 40 children playing. When I walked outside to see what was going on I discovered a sea of 40 little bodies lying on colorful blankets and mats taking their mid-day nap. Some of the younger children were snuggled up with a buddy and already sound asleep. Others were quietly resting until lunch. It was a beautiful sight! As we walked to our vehicle, the pastor’s mother walked up to me with tears in her eyes and asked if I would please let others know about these precious children. I promised I would tell everyone I could. I reached over to hug her and we both melted into tears. This family’s unconditional love and compassion for these children is incredible. They have so little, but they are sharing everything they have with children that have nothing and no one! I can’t begin to imagine how heart wrenching it must be to love and care for a child that you know will ultimately die in spite of everything you do for them. How many of us would risk that kind of love for a stranger? NOTE: The next blog will be about our visit with the dowry castaway women – burned by their husbands in order to acquire money from another bride and her family.