The Heroes

I spent much of the day with some of my heroes.

Thanks to support from @ThePocketSquareProject and the sale of some lovely Kenyan handicrafts, we held an adolescent support day at our largest HIV clinic. Our oldest pediatric patients — young adults who were born with HIV as many as 20 years ago — gathered in our tent meeting space to talk and share and be family for each other.

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These kids. Wow. They are bright and articulate. They are brave and beautiful.

They talked about walking through fears, how they struggle daily to ignore the many voices around them that tell them that they are worthless and dirty and doomed. Instead, they cling to their dreams, their faith, their laughter, and their hope for the future. And their courage — in the midst of sickness, poverty, and rejection — is incredible.

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Matthew is the social butterfly of the group; he is an excellent soccer player who jokes freely and teases everyone, but also quotes Bible passages. He is quite good-looking, and I see the girls stealing glances at him. He led the discussion time for the support group, and when he talks about “living positively”, he grabs everyone’s attention with his organized points.

Be open with the ones who are close to you. Be as active as you can and find support from those who share your outlook. Be willing to love and to be loved. Matthew gets the group to discuss their emotions and fears and what it looks like to overcome them on a daily basis.

To encourage his peers to move beyond their fears, he uses a Swahili proverb: “A cowardly hyena lives longer, but it suffers the most.” These kids want desperately to live longer, but they do not want their potentially limited number of days to be marked by fear.

When I listen to these kids, I gather hope and energy for our quest to provide medicines, to fight the constant illnesses, to keep trying to fix the broken healthcare  system. They give me hope for their futures and for our work in Kenya.

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“These kids are going to change Kenya,” says Lucy, one of the world’s best nurses. For years, Lucy has taken it upon herself to look after our HIV-infected adolescents at the referral clinic. They call her “mother.”

My hope and admiration for their bright and shining beauty is dimmed just a bit by how it brings the depth of our losses into such clear focus. Over 50 of the adolescents at this clinic died in the last 18 months. We have lost far too many bright and shining stars. The kids talk about their “lost brothers and sisters”, and we feel those holes in the midst of this assembled family.

And yet, the youth carry their mourning, their illnesses, the frailty of some of their bodies, their experiences of pain and discrimination. They walk on towards the future. They tell each other to choose hope every day.

“We choose to shine,” they say. “We choose to live positively.”

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The youth are planning a special day in November (thanks again to our supporters!) where they will gather just outside of town at an outdoor conference facility. They are bursting with ideas about exactly what they want to do for this special day: play soccer, perform their own skits and poems and dance routines in a talent show, eat, and spend time sharing their stories. Their eyes dance in anticipation. They cannot wait.

These young adults shine with all they have. They choose hope. It’s an honor to walk beside these heroes.

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“This is how we play football in the dirt”

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Transition

As it happens, I am in the midst of major transitions in all aspects of my life. Truly, in all. I will be back to writing more here at Doctor V Goes Over the Sea someday, but for now, I am in survival mode from one day to the next. I hope you will be patient with me.

Probably the least of these transitions is that I leave tomorrow for six weeks in multiple other countries. I am all in favor of appreciating whatever a particular place has to offer. So, in the midst of complete life craziness this week, I commemorate in no particular order these wonderful gifts that I have been savoring in the U S of A:

  • Tamales
  • Bathrooms with toilet seats and toilet paper
  • Sushi
  • Roads with pavement. And lanes. And drivers who give actual thought to not killing other people.
  • Blazing fast internet
  • Lettuce that is easy to obtain and to sanitize
  • Jazz
  • Friends and family who show up with love in the midst of hard and heavy stuff
  • Blueberries
  • Bureaucracy that actually yields a desired result in the end
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Espresso shots
  • A lack of need for bribes

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Mamas and Babies

Art from the artists at the AMPATH Imani Workshop in Kenya…

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We can do this.

I know this story so well. We hear this in our clinics in Kenya every single day…

She was HIV-positive. “I thought now nothing in my life was going to be right, nothing that I have ever dreamed of would come true,” she said.

But she still wanted to start a family. A few months later, she was pregnant. She assumed the baby would be born HIV-positive and simply hoped her child would live a long, healthy life with medication.

There was a lot Tinzi didn’t know. HIV-positive women who don’t seek medical care have roughly a 40 percent chance of passing the virus on to their child. But with proper medical care — and a steady dose of anti-retroviral drugs — that number can essentially be reduced to zero. The problem is, treatment isn’t available in many parts of the world. And even if it is, women aren’t always aware of the option.

(From Goats and Soda)

She's a mother talking to another mother — and both are HIV-positive. That's the mentoring role played by Phelokazi Tinzi, who works for  mothers2mothers in South Africa.

We know how to prevent babies from being born with HIV. We can have an HIV-free generation. With support and education and access to medicines, women like Tinzi will only have tears of joy to shed over their HIV-negative babies.

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