She brought her baby sister to the clinic all by herself.
When you are nine, you shouldn’t have to take care of yourself, let alone your baby sister. But when your mother has died and your father is sick and living somewhere else, you have to grow up far too fast. You are the one who makes sure that you both have food. You are the one responsible.
Caroline knew that her mother brought the baby to the AMPATH clinic. She did not know that her mother had HIV and that she was taking medicines to try to prevent this virus from infecting her baby. She did not know that the baby needed to be tested for HIV or when the baby was supposed to come see the doctor. But she knew that they should come.
Caroline’s mother spared her baby from HIV. By taking the medicines to prevent the virus from passing to her baby during pregnancy or during breast-feeding, she kept the baby free of infection. Caroline is not infected either.
Even though the medicines spared her baby, Caroline’s mother did not manage to spare herself. From what Caroline describes, she was very thin, coughing too much, and one day, a few weeks ago, she did not wake up. (My doctor’s guess would be that she had TB.) The day that she did not wake up will shape every day of life for her two girls.
We have a program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children that can help orphans like Caroline and her sister, and I was grateful to be able to refer them for assistance and follow-up. I was grateful to enlist help. I was grateful for a social worker to try to figure out if there was an adult who cared about them who could lift some of the responsibility from the shoulders of this nine-year-old.
I was grateful, but I keep thinking about them. A nine-year-old and her baby sister and the mother we could not keep alive.