Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Home Visits

Marcella, 12, and Dorene, 6, are orphans. Their parents died several years ago from AIDS-related illnesses. The sisters share a thatch-roofed, windowless, mud-walled two-room home with three other relatives. We met them, and nine other families living with HIV, on a warm day-long walk into the community, through forests, fields and sunny shambas (small farms). Praxedes, Salome and Teresa, three committed CCC staff members, were my guides.

The Comprehensive Care Clinic is one of the hospital-affiliated programs in Maseno. Separately-staffed and funded by NGO monies, it provides daily counseling, testing, outpatient services and support programs to people living with HIV/AIDS. The CCC operates from a building located between our Women's Ward and the Xray Department. It also operates in the community by sending trained health workers, many of them living with HIV/AIDS themselves, into homes to provide follow-up care to adults and children alike.

Marcella and Dorene ushered us into their simple home, invited us to sit on the only bench in the house, and shyly counted out their anti-retroviral drugs on a spotless, pressed tablecloth. A neighbor's cow grazed in the dooryard, chickens wandered in and out, and fringed homework papers decorated the ceiling.

The dung floor was swept clean, and an old calendar brightened the wall near the door. The sisters are fortunate: their aunt took them in and raised them alongside her own children, in spite of the lingering stigma of AIDS. We did not see Deenah because she works all day, every day, as a domestic to support her family. The kids work, too, on the house and in the garden. They do not attend the "free" district primary school because they do not have enough money for the requisite uniforms and books. However, they do attend our Saturday orphan feeding programs, where they participate in classes, as well. They also walk seven miles round trip, twice a month, to attend the Kids' Club at Maseno Hospital's CCC -- one more program that is keeping hope alive.

We wore neither lab coats nor uniforms on our home visits. Although guests are warmly welcomed, even the children did not want their neighbors to know why we were there. There is a poignant hand-lettered sign on the wall of a makeshift clinic in the village where Marcella and Dorene live: "In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies. We will remember the silence of our friends."

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