World AIDS Orphan Day: Robert

There is always a point on the long, bumpy, hours-long ride out to one of our rural HIV clinics where I regret deciding to venture out this far. It's usually when I'm sweating and coughing from the dust while we change our second flat tire or when I'm wondering whether we'll be able to make it through yet another washed-out "road" (the state of misery - dust vs. mud - being dependent on the weather.) And then, after the four-hour drive (if all goes well), I face a long queue of children waiting to be seen. Sometimes, I need to take a big breath before I jump in. Just why did I volunteer to come here today?

Then, a sick child is brought to my attention, and my wimpy complaints quickly fade.

Eye _concentration

Robert is small for his 8 years and is getting smaller. A frail, meek boy who sits quietly on his chair. He is wearing filthy, tattered clothes, and the room is filled with the smell that goes along with the kind of poverty that is noticeable even in even a very poor place. Despite that smell, though, you'll notice that he has dimples that should make a girl swoon over his smile one day.

Robert lives with his grandmother, a woman too old and weak to make the journey to HIV clinic, and so he was brought in for his appointment by a neighbor. He really should have been started on the medicines to fight the HIV virus quite a few months ago, but without a mother or a father to take responsibility for giving him his medicines, with only this ancient grandmother, no one was sure that he should be started on the medicines at all.

On this day, I decided we didn't have any other choice. Robert is losing weight, and his body is being taken over by the diseases of the skin and mouth and lungs that sneak in when your immune system is non-existent. We talked to the neighbor that brought him to clinic for a long, long time, trying to determine if he was really serious about helping the boy take these 4 medicines twice a day and if he understood the weight of this treatment. I tried to involve the social workers to follow up at his home and the nutrition support team to make sure there is enough food, but I just don't know if these measures will be enough. His little body was covered with scars collected over a childhood of no one caring too much what happens to you.

There are one million orphans in Kenya. I can't even wrap my brain around that number when my heart feels burdened by one or two. All the curses of malnutrition and poverty and infection hurt you so much more when you don't have a mother or a father to look after you. No one to give you medicines and to make sure you have enough to eat, let alone to tuck you in at night or walk you to school.

"If only I could get them parents…." That's the thought with which I so often leave the clinic. We can bring all manner of medicines and equipment and services here, but parents we can't muster. I think it counts, though, when we notice and care and try. I think that, as a great big world of adults, we have to notice and care and try these small ones with quiet voices. So, on this World AIDS Orphan Day, I'd ask you to think about Robert and think about what we adults can do for the millions of children who don't have any adult to tuck them in tonight. If you're so inclined, prayers and gifts seem pretty reasonable to me while we try to stop the bleeding from all of those losses.

Posted at 15:25


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