This past visit to Zambia we became very concerned about one of our sponsored children, Andrew. Andrew is 12 years old and is HIV positive. He visits the clinic one a month and is on his medicine, (ARV’s ).
Andrew has always been a concern for us because of his illness. When Andrew entered in to our program he was malnourished and very lethargic. After aggressively feeding him for months, Andrew started to look better and actually be able to participate in school. I have never seen Andrew smile, and you can tell that life for him is about survival and nothing else. He doesn’t run around or play soccer or basketball. He has his head down in class because he is tired and run down. Here is a photo of Andrew in our container receiving food:
Andrew’s parents both passed away years ago. He lives with aunts and uncles in a tiny home with about 15 people. There is no food for Andrew at home and he comes to school dirty. He sleeps on a dirt floor and doesn’t have any help from guardians. We have worked hard to feed Andrew at school and give him soap and lotion. Brenda, who is in charge of Andrew through our child sponsorship program, sits patiently with him as he eats slower and needs more attention daily. We have treated skin rashes and worked hard to help this little guy. There are times that Andrew has tried to follow our staff home and he always is the last to leave school.
This past visit we noticed that although all that we had done, it wasn’t enough. Andrew is loosing this battle with HIV. He was extremely skinny again and slow to walk, slow to talk. There was very little life left in this child. We learned that Andrew has been having very bad stomach issues and cannot keep the food we are feeding him down. This is a sign that the virus is getting worse. It also is a sign that the medicine cannot work when the patient has no food in them. Brenda went to the clinic with Andrew and we received more devastating news, that his CD4 count was at 120. If a patient has a CD4 count less than 400 than the disease has moved from HIV to the AIDS virus. Anything under 200 is considered that the patient is very susceptible to any type of illness and ultimately death. We also learned that Andrew weights around 44 pounds, at 12 years old. This was crushing for us.
We realized that although we can try to feed, clothe, and take care of Andrew, we couldn’t in the conditions he is living in. How Andrew is cared for is out of our control when he walks out of the school’s gate everyday. We can’t monitor his medicine intake and if it is happening. We can’t keep him warm and clean at night. We can’t make sure he has food to eat for dinner with his medicine. And helping at school is not enough for him. It was a sobering realization to make. Our ability is limited and it wasn’t enough. Without a home to put Andrew in, we couldn’t help him.
After getting my act together and wiping the tears from my face, John and I talked and discussed with our Zambian team what to do. We approached a special home where catholic nuns take care of children in Andrew’s situation. They have a school, orphanage, and hospice center all in one compound. We asked them to take Andrew into their care. They were hesitant at first, given Andrew’s age, they like to take younger kids. After explaining how sick Andrew is, and telling them his weight, they agreed to take him for 6 months. This particular home is approached almost daily for kids to be allowed to stay with them; the demand by far outweighs the beds they have. We felt very blessed that Andrew was accepted.
Brenda and some of our other staff visited Andrew’s family to ask them if they could take Andrew to the special home. They agreed and were honestly relived. It was another body and mouth out of their home that they didn’t have to deal with.
A day or so later, our staff took Andrew to the home. We had him all packed up with his only belongings he has, clothes and a backpack we have given him. Brenda packed him soap and school supplies and a special kid’s Bible that she had been reading to him.
They arrived at the home and were met with wonderful people who were ready to help this kiddo. Andrew was overwhelmed when they showed him his very own bed and he whispered to Brenda that he had never slept in a real bed before. The other kids greeted him and gave them a tour of the home. There is a school that Andrew can attend if he feels well enough. We left Andrew and were told we could visit once a week and we would also be required to take him to the clinic once a month.
As I left Zambia it was the first time that I felt like I might not ever see one of our kids again. I thought about this on the plane with tears streaming down my face as John tried to comfort me and reassure me that we had done everything we can. Andrew is sick and has the odds against him. There is no doubt that he is in the best care possible. He is in a home where he is loved and cared for. He has food anytime he wants. He can truly be a kid, and not worry about the next meal or if he will be warm for the night. We can’t think of a better place for Andrew to be in this stage of his life. We are so thankful for this home and our partners in caring for Andrew.
Sometimes running a ministry is difficult because there is only so much you can do. And then you have to remember about your trust in God. It is a good lesson for us; we know that God is in control of this situation. We are called to do all we can do, but ultimately this is HIS child. We are beyond grateful for this home and for Andrew to have a chance at becoming healthy to where he can fight the disease and the medicine can work.
About a week ago we received an email in the USA titled “Breaking News.” When you run a ministry, this can be concerning to get an email from Africa saying this. Most breaking news is never good! But we were pleasantly surprised.
Bwalya informed us that he had just returned from visiting Andrew at one of our allowed visits. We learned that within two weeks Andrew was a changed child. His CD4 count was at 190 and he had gained 9 pounds. But most importantly Andrew’s smile is back! We received the following photo that made me cry, once again, luckily in my home and not in public.
We thank God for Andrew’s turn for the better. We thank Him for the home he is able to be at and the care he is receiving. We thank him for the smile on this child’s face, and we thank him for all the blessings he has shown us. We know that Andrew is HIS and we continue to pray for improvement.