Born Angels

Trip Start Jun 18, 2008
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Trip End Aug 17, 2008


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I had first met Lawreen when I went to the hospital with Nyanza to visit Silida. Later I learned that she had been in Mwanza for over a year working in HIV/AIDS community education and outreach.  I wanted to visit her center before leaving Tanzania, so Liz and I took a morning off from the orphanage to meet Lawreen.  In the morning, Lawreen works with pre-school children and then typically spends the afternoon visiting families.  The center also provides counseling to HIV positive people, medical care and dispenses Anti-retroviral drugs (ARV). Lawreen proudly told me that Tanzania does provide free ARVs; unfortunately not everyone takes them.  I asked why and she explained she was not sure of all the reasons, but it is difficult for people in rural areas to obtain the medication. In addition, some people chose not to take the drugs for religious reasons. Lawreen took us on a tour of the HIV center and then we returned to play with the preschoolers.
 
Less than ten children played outside.  As Lawreen passed out toys, she informed us that about half the children were out sick that day.  Many of the pre-schoolers are HIV positive and their weakened immune systems cause they to become ill more easily.  A few of the little girls grabbed some dolls and some cloth then asked us to help them tie the dolls to their backs as mothers do to their babies in Tanzania.  Next they wrapped some more cloth around their waist imitating the long kangas that women wear.  Eliza, an adorable six-year old, proudly pranced in front of me playing mom.  I was saddened to hear that she was one of the children with HIV.  Lawreen told me she does take ARVs.  I know in the developed world, ARVs are dramatically improving the lives of those with HIV. In fact, people taking ARVs can live without ever developing AIDS. I asked Lawreen if she knew the prospect of RV use in Tanzania.  She seemed optimistic, but admitted the future is largely unknown.  She explained that so much depended on the continual availability of the ARVs as well as the level of nutrition and general health care.  As health care is not readily available everywhere and is generally of a lower standard the greatest risk is the patient's ability to recover from secondary infections.  In addition, if someone is continually ill this will affect their employment.  For now, Eliza looked healthy and happy, and I wondered how her future would unfold. Would she survive her childhood? Would she ever be able to be the mother she played?  Hopefully with her ARVs, she could still have a future.
 
When we had first arrived at the center that morning, a beautiful teenage girl sat outside. Lawreen introduced us to Lucia who had respectfully knelt before us saying "Shikamu". Liz and I politely responded "Marahaba", and I forgot about the young girl until Lawreen brought her up later.  Lawreen had discovered 14-year-old Lucia down the street from the nursery school begging.  She was quite distressed as she suffered from a bad cough and asked Lawreen for help. Then Lawreen became distressed when she saw that Lucia had a four-month-old obviously starving baby laying on the ground next to her.  She took them both to the hospital where Lucia was placed in the TB ward and Adamu was treated for malnutrition.  I saw pictures of Adamu at this time (see weblink below). He was so thin that all his ribs protruded from his body and his skin hung limply on his bones.  As Lucia was quarantined, Lawreen took him to the baby orphanage, Forever Angels, and also began to visit Lucia in the hospital to learn more about her situation. Lucia had lost her parents by the time she was nine or ten. At some point she became a prostitute, or more fairly became engaged in survival sex, in order to feed herself.  Not only did she become pregnant but she also contracted HIV.  As her son we starving, she breastfed him for two months and he too became a victim.  After two months, Lucia herself was malnourished and stopped producing milk. Adamu began to live off water. Once Lucia was out of the hospital, Lawreen managed to get her accepted at an orphanage for older children.  Lucia has no education, and unfortunately sex is the only trade she knows. Lawreen had arranged that if Lucia behaved herself for six months, she would then be given a job a Forever Angels. The hope was once she learned to care for her son and make an income, the little family would be reunited.  Lawreen was extremely disappointed when Lucia arrived earlier than week having been thrown out of the orphanage after multiple behavior infractions. Perhaps being on her own for many years was making it difficult to adjust to the orphanage.  As Lawreen was taking Liz and I to the baby orphanage, she encouraged Lucia to come see her son. Lawreen was disappointed when Lucia declined, apparently she keeps changing her mind about whether or not, she wants to be his mother.  She told Liz and I that one of the things she was most proud of during her time in Tanzania was saving Lucia and Adamu, but now Lucia was most likely going to end up back in the streets selling herself.  In fact, Lawreen was suspicious this was already occurring.  I could tell Lawreen was being too hard on herself. She had done more than most people would have, and I reminded her that she had saved the baby. And both Lucia and Adamu were getting ARVS now too.   I wondered if I was Lucia, how I would handle being a fourteen year old mother to a son conceived this way.
 
We arrived at Forever Angels and Adaumu was playing outside. Now he is almost one, and I could hardly believe this porky, little boy was the same skeleton from the pictures. He is so fat that the directors nicknamed him, Hippo. I held him in my arms for a while then had to sit down for he is just too heavy.   Forever Angels was started by a British couple in their late twenties. I was utterly amazed at what they have accomplished.  They recognized the need for an orphanage to focus on the littlest of children and actually did something about it. Raising funds largely from the UK, they have opened a beautiful facility.  The difference between Forever Angels and Hands of Mercy were vast. I assume this is mostly due to larger donations from the West.  The walls were decorated with large, bright-colored paintings and hand-prints of the children.  There was a photo of each child accompanied by a story. Although Hands of Mercy does display photos of the children and there are a couple of animals painted on the walls, Forever Angels looked more like a facility I would expect to find back home.
 
The complex was quite large with a playground and a huge room with bathtubs.  They have upwards of forty babies under the age of three, and they all have their own crib. Women are employed to help care for the children twenty-four hours a day.  Some of the babies have lost both parents, some have been abandoned, while others lost their mother during childbirth.  In Tanzania, a child is legally an orphan if one parent is deceased. When a mother dies in childbirth, it is very difficult for the father to take care of the baby and maintain employment. Forever Angels will take the baby until he/she is two or three and the father can better care for the child.  They also get volunteers from all over the world. Although the babies and the facilities were beautiful, I was grateful to be volunteering at Hands of Mercy.  The babies at Forever Angels are well-taken care of, while my orphans rely on the volunteers.
 
Maybe I should have felt depressed after spending the morning with HIV positive children. Lucia' situation saddened me. I know there are millions of children in the world with HIV/AIDS, and yet is very different to hold one in your arms.  These things are difficult, but the things people were doing around them was uplifting.   One thing that has been wonderful during the last two months is to see what people are doing to make the world a better place.  I have met so many people who recognized a need and actually implemented a solution. How thankful I am to Jo for starting the volunteer program at HOM and to Jaco for continuing it when she leaves. And as my time in Tanzania winds down, I do not want to be depressed. I look to these individuals as they spread hope and inspiration.  Things can be different if only we are willing to do something about it.
 
 
To see Amadu go to http://www.foreverangels.org/index.php?source=children/children.html&transform=stylesheet.xsl&pageName=children&noCache=true&childNickname=adamu
 
There are photos of him when he first came as well as one from February, however, he is so much fatter now. 
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