A crash course in changing the world.
This is a (belated?) response to the Game 1 challenge.
The organization Hope for Children here in Ethiopia does not so much embody courage as much as it provides people impacted by AIDS with the support to find their own courage. Hope for Children provides services to some 800 kids in Addis Ababa who have lost one of both parents to AIDS. They also run hospices for adults who are sick with AIDS.
The nature of AIDS stigma here is something I’m still struggling to wrap my head around. The teenage AIDS orphans I work with have benefited from 10+ years of social services and creative self expression designed to heal the stigma’s wounds. It’s taking time to work backwards from where they are now to what AIDS stigma is like without support.
Hope For Children runs many community events where youth perform plays about AIDS and people of all ages give testimony to the losses they have suffered as well as the triumphs they have made. I’ve seen a number of these performances, but the Christmas celebration really struck me. It’s Christmas, right? Presents, feasting, happy times. Hope for Children’s celebration included these things but it also included heart wrenching short plays written by youth about family dramas leading to or exacerbated by AIDS. At one point, I was crouched down just
in front of the stage taking pictures when I realized that a group of the littlest kids had gathered just behind me. Some 20 children of 5 and 6 years old were enthralled by the performance about two negligent teenagers ignoring their sick mother and then grieving with horrible guilt when she suddenly died of AIDS. All the little kids were crying silently as they watched. I realize that they were crying because they get it. They have lived this. They are intimately familiar with guilt and grief brought about by loosing family to AIDS. I’m not sure how often they have the opportunity to let those feeling come to the surface in a supportive shared space, but I suddenly understood how appropriate this was for a Christmas celebration.
In addition to providing hospice for sick adults, Hope for Children provides safe housing for AIDS orphans who are being stigmatized in their communities. A nurse makes rounds to the orphans in their home across the city to provide antiretroviral drugs. If he notices that a child becomes withdrawn or acts out uncharacteristically, he gives the child the option to live for a few months at the safe house. The psychological changes are signs that other kids in the community and possibly adults are ostracizing or bullying the AIDS orphans. On the one hand, I find it totally heartbreaking that the stigmatization is so bad that the best option is to move out of the community temporarily. On the other hand, I find it totally inspiring that Hope for Children prioritizes the psychological health of the child by creating a space for them to let down their guard and find the strength they need to live happily.
I’m rifling through Travis Kavulla’s brilliant article “AIDS Relief and Moral Myopia” for some quote that will drive home the oppressive weight of AIDS stigma in Africa and the heroic nature of Hope for Children’s efforts to bring people the courage to live despite this stigmatization. The issue is so nuanced that I cannot summarize is succinctly myself and no single paragraph in this article does either.
Thanks for posing this challenge, Amanda. I believe I'm a little behind the curve with posting my response. It's been very valuable to mull this over and begin to put words to the profound admiration I have for the courageous work Hope for Children is doing.