I am day late on my World AIDS Day posting for the best of reasons – we were too busy launching the first-ever #worldAIDSdayINDY event last night.
A great crowd came out to The Libertine to commemorate World AIDS Day and to help us launch The Pocket Square Project initiative. I am overflowing with gratitude for how communities here in Indy came together to connect around fashion and global health. More on that later, hopefully with photos!
I still need to tell a special story here, though, for World AIDS Day. (Even a day late.)
On every December 1, the day that we celebrate World AIDS Day, I remember a little girl named Faith. I met Faith the very first time I went to Kenya, which was exactly 10 years ago.
December 1 was Faith’s birthday. I wish that Faith was alive today to turn 14. Faith’s birthday should be celebrated. There is a gap in my heart every World AIDS Day when I think of Faith. There is a gap where a girl should be celebrating her birthday.
Faith was the first child under my care who died from HIV. I took this photo of Faith and her mother on the day that I met them in Kenya on the wards of the hospital.
Faith was 4-years old, and she only weighed 4 kilograms – about 9 pounds. I had never seen a 4-year-old child like Faith before that day, a 4-year-old who weighed less than some newborn babies.
Four-year-olds are not supposed to look like Faith looked. The HIV virus had stolen all of Faith’s energy as it destroyed her body’s immune system. The HIV virus was stealing away Faith. She was beautiful, but broken.
Faith’s mother had worked very, very hard to get her daughter to the referral hospital. You can see in the photo how happy and hopeful her mother looks. She is pleased she managed to get her daughter to this hospital.
Faith died two days after she was admitted to the hospital. Our medicines, our fluids, our nutritional support were all too little, too late. We could not save her. I could not save her. I remember her last breath. Faith taught me my first real lesson in how HIV steals children’s lives.
After Faith died, her mother kept thanking me for this photo that I had taken of Faith. She did not have any other pictures of her daughter, and she was grateful to have this one.
I felt terrible when she thanked me. I felt like I failed because I could not keep Faith alive. What was a photo in the face of the loss of a 4-year-old daughter?
I wished that I could change Faith’s story. I still wish that. I wish Faith was alive to turn 14 on this December 1, on this World AIDS Day. I wish we all could know Faith today. I wish we were celebrating Faith’s 14th birthday today in a different way.
We have lost so many Faiths. 210,000 children died from HIV last year. 210,000 stories we will never know. 210,000 birthdays that will not be celebrated this year.
When I took care of Faith in 2004, I did not realize that my life’s work would become trying to change the stories of children living with HIV in the world’s poor places. I did not know I would one day be caring for over 15,000 Kenyan children just like Faith through the AMPATH program. I did not know that I would spend every day trying change the stories of children with HIV around the world into stories of health and hope.
3.4 million of the world’s children are living with HIV on this December 1, 2014. I love it that we gathered in Indianapolis for World AIDS Day to try to change the story for children like Faith. That is the entire goal of The Pocket Square Project.
I want more birthdays for more children.
We could have kept Faith alive if she had been able to enroll in one of our HIV clinics and start the medicines for HIV before she got so sick. We could have given her many more birthdays. On this December 1st, let’s keep committing ourselves to more and more birthdays for children like Faith.