I went on a quest with my team to find Dinah’s house. Dinah’s oldest two children have not showed up in the HIV clinic for the last 2 months, and one of them was quite sick the last time we saw him. Our clinic outreach team had not been able to locate them and Dinah did not seem to have a working phone number, but my team had made some contacts in the neighborhood and thought we could find them.
Dinah cares for 11 children – 7 biological children and 4 orphaned nieces and nephews. We know that she is often overwhelmed with this burden, and my wonderful team and I could not help but worry about the family.
After some driving adventures over dirt non-roads and lots of asking for directions, we managed to find Dinah’s house, one room in a long row building made of mud with a tin roof. In this one-room home, there is not room for all 12 of them to sleep on the floor of the single room, so some of them sleep at the neighbor’s.
The needs at Dinah’s house are stark – she asks whether we could help with food, with shoes for the children so they will not be kicked out of school for having improper attire, and maybe for assistance in renting a second room.
Dinah’s nephews and nieces ended up with her after their parents died two years ago. The eldest, a 16-year-old girl, told a terrible story with tears in her eyes. After her parents died, she had tried to look after her siblings, but then members of the local community had burned down the house in which they lived because “they didn’t want the HIV in the house to spread.” The girl speaks sadly, wistfully, about the school uniforms that they lost in the fire. They have struggled to remain in school ever since.
The good news at Dinah’s house was that everyone was still alive, even the two who have HIV and have been quite sick. One of the boys continues to be quite sick, though, and I worried that he needed to start treatment for TB. All of the children are malnourished, and it is clear there is not enough food to go around. We arranged for transportation for them to come to the clinic for the x-rays and medicines that I want to make sure they have. We can keep them alive with these medicines, though clearly this family needs much, much more.
Dinah’s house reminds me of where I am, of what it means to live in one of the world’s poorest places. When you go to Dinah’s house, you cannot escape from what it means that ONE BILLION people still live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 per day. At Dinah’s house, you cannot ignore what it looks like to live in a country with 1 million orphans, where it often seems like an entire generation of parents has been wiped out. You see Dinah and these 11 children fighting against all odds to keep everyone healthy and fed and in school, and it seems like they are too-often losing. It is ugly and sad and painful.
Better to look. Better to let your heart break. Better to be aware.
When you are aware of what HIV still means for our world, you can become part of the larger, global community coming together around these families and helping them to carry on. When your heart breaks, you draw close to the hearts of others. When you look, you know how to fight.