Monday, December 1, 2008

Sophie's Choice -- and Ours

Today is the 20th commemoration of World AIDS Day. Yes, there are many health problems the world over (quite a number of them at Maseno Hospital, in fact), and "AIDS is just one of them." But 22 million of the 33 million people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, and they are my neighbors. Some of the remaining 11 million are yours. Perhaps most sadly, there are 11.5 million AIDS orphans in the world, and all of these numbers continue to climb. Every single one of them is much more than a statistic, however. This is Sophie's story...

Sophie is ten years old, and she is choosing to "live positively." The doctors and nurses at Maseno Hospital saved her life in July, and a CCC caseworker named Praxedes adopted and breathed love back into her. Sophie's parents had both died of AIDS-related illnesses, and she was suffering from a variety of HIV complications, herself. Sick and wasted, Sophie was brought to the hospital by a relative who didn't think she would live -- and who didn't want to take her home when she did.

Then a miracle happened. A remarkable community health worker at Maseno Hospital's Comprehensive Care Center invited Sophie into her home and family. Praxedes, 42, is a vibrant single mother with two children of her own. She is living with HIV and spends her life teaching others to live as positively as she does. In just a few short months, Sophie has blossomed into a happy child whose remaining immediate health concern is a problem with her vision. Praxedes works extra hard for extra income to help her family, and she dreams of opening an orphanage for children like Sophie someday. Her heart has room for every one of them.

This is the poem (translated from Kiswahili) that Sophie recited as she lit the "HOPE" candle on World AIDS Day 2008 at Maseno Mission Hospital:

AIDS is a killer disease.

It killed my mother.
It killed my father.
It killed my grandmother.
It killed my grandfather.

Why are we so ashamed?
We cannot hide in the forest.
We need to fight this killer disease.
We need to live with hope.

Once an orphan, Sophie is now the daughter of Praxedes; but she has always been a child of God. It is Sophie's choice to live fully and joyously. It is ours to continue to help her and Praxedes and others like them, as well as the hospital that serves them all.

Maseno Hospital is struggling. Your financial and prayer support are not just appreciated; they are vital. Mission hospitals provide 48% of the medical services in Kenya, and they depend upon our donations to survive. Please consider sharing your Christmas offering plate or contributing a holiday check. We need medicine, equipment and supplies. Please note "MASENO HOSPITAL" on the memo line of your check to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, PO Box 1287, Edgartown, MA 02539. Asante sana!

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