She brought her baby sister to the clinic all by herself.
When you are nine, you shouldn't have to take care of yourself,
let alone your baby sister. But when your mother has died and your
father is sick and living somewhere else, you have to grow up far
too fast. You are the one who makes sure that you both have food.
You are the one responsible.
Caroline knew that her mother brought the baby to the AMPATH
clinic. She did not know that her mother had HIV and that she was
taking medicines to try to prevent this virus from infecting her
baby. She did not know that the baby needed to be tested for HIV or
when the baby was supposed to come see the doctor. But she knew
that they should come.
Caroline's mother spared her baby from HIV. By taking the
medicines to prevent the virus from passing to her baby during
pregnancy or during breast-feeding, she kept the baby free of
infection. Caroline is not infected either.
Even though the medicines spared her baby, Caroline's mother did
not manage to spare herself. From what Caroline describes, she was
very thin, coughing too much, and one day, she did not wake up.
(The doctor's guess would be that she had TB.) The day that she did
not wake up will shape every day of life for her two girls.
We have a program for
Orphans and Vulnerable Children that can help orphans like
Caroline and her sister, and I was grateful to be able to refer
them for assistance and follow-up. I was grateful to enlist help. I
was grateful for a social worker to try to figure out if there was
an adult who cared about them who could lift some of the
responsibility from the shoulders of this nine-year-old.
I was grateful, but I keep thinking about them. A nine-year-old
and her baby sister and the mother we could not keep alive.