A project of SUPPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL CHANGE
I'm running a 5K with people in Tanzania, the US, and the UK to fund raise for Support for International in their fight against HIV/AIDS.
I have been with SIC for the past three years. This is because I believe in the SIC’s work. It uses its limited resources to the fullest extent, and more importantly I believe in the cause. I want to fight against HIV/AIDS.
Watch the video above to find out why I have been inspired to fight against HIV/AIDS. You can read the long version below. If you could, please support me and SIC so we can continue our work to fight against HIV/AIDS.
Mama K, SIC’s Community Health Worker for the village, had taken my teaching group and I on HIV+ patient visits. I was one of the last people to enter the room. As my group followed Mama K through the doorway, I caught glimpses. A mattress. The faint outline of a skeleton beneath a sheet. A frail arm straining to extend itself. All accompanied by moans that reverberated with pain, distress, and sorrow. I entered the room. Her eyes paralyzed me. Her eyes were in full relief from her face. Not just an after effect from the emaciation. They were screaming.
She was Ziada, a woman struggling to survive with AIDS. This was a story she wouldn’t be able to tell. Her respiratory disease had silenced her – she could not talk. The only way she could communicate was with her eyes that leapt forward, the frail arms that writhed instead of reached, and the air that withdrew from her lungs in wheezes.
Mama K, rushed to Ziada. She put her ear to Ziada’s mouth hoping to hear something. I quit looking at Ziada. I couldn’t handle it. There was too much agony in her eyes. This was only made worse by the sight of her emaciated body and the sounds of pain – the faint impressions of what little life was left behind by HIV.
Instead I looked at the mostly empty bottles of ARVs, and stared at the “0” in her CD4 count logbook. Mama K, however, persevered. She is much stronger than me. Mama K herself has HIV. When she sees someone like Ziada, she is looking her fate dead in the eyes. Still, without fear and without hesitation Mama K seizes any opportunity to help.
Discouraged Mama K turned from Ziada to the family that had slowly been filling the room. Her father explained that the ARVs were not working and that the doctors hated Ziada and her family. We expressed our condolences – “Pole Sana.” Mama K then wrote her a referral to see another doctor. We handed over the sugar and soap we had brought as gifts and made our way for the door. Before I left caught a glimpse of Ziada. She was hunched slightly forward. The veins in her neck began to show. Her eyes lurched. She was reaching out to me, but I did not know what to do.
Our group left to visit the next HIV+ patient, Maua. We walked in silence. Ziada’s eyes were frozen in my mind. In Maua’s house we sat somber. Mama K apologized for us, and explained that we were distraught over Ziada.
Outrage filled Maua. “They don’t take care of her.” She went on to explain. What we had just seen was a lie. Ziada had nothing. She didn’t even have the mattress she laid on. That was put there for show. Instead her family left her to lie on the dirt. They left her to die.
The family had sold all of Ziada’s possessions. They had stopped taking her to the doctor. Those ARV bottles were nearly empty because the family was selling them. Those ARVs, a doctor’s visit, or any amount of compassion could have made Ziada healthy again.
We were outraged. We spent the next few days bewildered. What could we do? Why did we come here as educators and not as doctors? We did not know how to proceed. So sat idle, paralyzed by our lack of wisdom. And in those few days, Ziada died.
Unlike us, Mama K wasn’t paralyzed. She wasn’t idle. Shortly after Mama K heard the truth about Ziada’s, she called to doctors, begging them to come. With the little money she and the support group had, she tried arranging an ambulance. Mama K did everything she could to get Ziada help, but there was too little time.
HIV hadn’t taken Ziada’s life. Stigma had. Her family left her for dead, and they were fortunate enough that HIV had stolen Ziada’s voice. Ziada couldn’t ask for help. She couldn’t even scream.
Ziada reminds me why I need to fight against HIV/AIDS, but Mama K shows me how to fight. Mama K never quits. No matter how bad the side effects are from her ARVs or how weak HIV makes her feel, she perseveres. Mama K wakes everyday eager to work to support her family and her community. She openly fights HIV in her village, despite facing the same stigma that took Ziada’s life. Mama K is the strongest person I know.
My mission is to work as hard as she does, in order to ensure that no one has to suffer Ziada’s fate ever again.