Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rockin' the Red not-so-pumpy Pumps

Today is Rock the Red Pump day.  March 10, 2012 is designated as National Women and Girls' HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Being more into comfort than style, I broke out the red Danskos for the occassion.

Yes, I realize that the "National" in the NWGHAAD title is referring to those living with HIV/AIDS here in America.  But this day brought to mind several women from my past who are living with HIV/AIDS.

In 2006, Dave and I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Kenya.  We have friends serving as missionaries there and the focus of their outreach at that time was HIV education and ministering to HIV/AIDS widows.

During our visit, we ventured into the Mathare slums in Nairobi.  It's anyone's guess exactly how many people call these few square miles home.  Recent estimates are anywhere from 750,000 to upwards of 1 million people.

We first visited "The Peanutbutter Project".  It's a cottage industry in which HIV/AIDS widows are employed making and selling peanutbutter.  This benefits them on so many levels.  It provides an income and a sense of purpose.  They are able to receive ARVs (antiretroviral drugs).  The protein in peanutbutter combined with ARVs and hope are life-changing for these women.

We then stopped at Alice's house.  Alice is living... no, she's now thriving... with HIV/AIDS.  Since meeting her in 2006 and buying some of the beaded pins and necklaces she was selling to make a meager income, she has gotten so much stronger and healthier with ARVs.  She now educates and ministers to others.

We visited Jael's apartment.  We were able to provide some groceries and prayer before leaving.  I have a feeling that the hugs we shared are the only ones she had received in a long time.

There was a dying grandma lying on the dirt floor of her shack.  Her children had died of AIDS and she was left as the sole caregiver for her 12 year old grandson.  I'm sure it was just a matter of days after our visit that he was totally orphaned by her passing.

We visited a 1 week old baby boy named Glory.  His mama is HIV+ and was out looking for food.  He was left in the care of his young siblings.

Our last stop was to visit an 18yo mama named Eyelet.  HIV positive Eyelet and her 3yo daughter were living with her mother.  Eyelet's mother did not want to provide help due to her HIV status.

These women did not lead promiscuous lifestyles.  Most likely their HIV was brought home by a husband that visited a prostitute then kicked her (his wife) out when she found out she was HIV+.  Chances are the husband never got tested or gave up his philandering.  And now she is widowed and alone with HIV/AIDS.

There are other casualties of this pandemic.  The children.  Children orphaned by parents who have died of AIDS.  Children born HIV+.  And possibly most catastrophic, children who gain their HIV status by rape.
I hate to break it to you, but there are many misconceptions out there... one of which is that HIV/AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin.  There have been many infants and young children harmed and physically mutilated by this lie.

We spent some time at El Joy School.  You would have never guessed that behind those dark eyes and brilliant smiles was pain that no 5 year old should ever have to bear.  I can still hear a line from the poem they recited in English:

"AIDS.  You took my Father...
... You killed my Mother...
And now you're killing me.
You stole my hope."

We're blessed here in the good ole' USA.  We have testing and treatment.  You can be HIV+ and live a long, happy, and healthy life.  There are tons of HIV+ kids on the Reece's Rainbow Waiting Children list just waiting for that chance.  (Also be sure to check out Project Hopeful.)  These kids aren't looking for a perfect parent... just one that will take that chance and love them.

Get educatedGet involved.  And if you have risk factors, get tested.

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