Whenever a "sponsor
letter" comes from the Ilula Children's Home, I think about
what child sponsorship means. It has been my privilege to sponsor
children myself, but also to see firsthand how sponsorship benefits
children -- with the chance to go to school, to be in families, to
have the needs of their hearts and bodies and minds met. When I
visit orphanages in Kenya, I get to talk with the children behind
the neatly-handwritten letters. When I get a letter from a child I
sponsor, I think about all the stories that I learn when I enter a
children's home in Kenya and the children take my hands and sit
with me and talk.
Not long ago, I spent the afternoon sitting in the grass next to
a soccer field where children from the orphanage were playing
games. Next to me sat Clara.
Clara is a shy 12-year-old girl, who I diagnosed with HIV a
little over a year ago. I had come to the children's home to have
dinner with my Kenyan friends who run the place, and as the evening
went on, I got the "Oh, by the way…" request for medical care that
is familiar to a doctor in any off-work setting. I never go to a
children's home without my stethoscope, no matter how social the
visit was intended. Someone is always sick.
This particular "oh, by the way…" turned into shepherding
coughing, sick Clara through our AMPATH clinic. I diagnosed Clara
with HIV and ushered her into the world of HIV treatment.
On this sunny Saturday afternoon by the soccer field, Clara
gradually shared more and more with me about her health, her
medicines, her memories of when she was diagnosed with HIV, and her
adventures in class 6. Clara is incredibly proud of how much
weight she has gained since starting the HIV medicines. Her grades
in school have also improved as dramatically as her CD4 count. She
is still very small for her age, but she is no longer the scrawny,
sickly looking child I saw a year ago.
Bit by bit, as we sat in the grass, we talked about how hard it
is to take the medicines, what it means that there is no cure for
HIV (but how the medicines can make the virus "sleep"), and what
her future might look like.
I was sad and angry when Clara's HIV test came back positive
(though not surprised), but she remembers that day when I first
took her to the HIV clinic as "a gift from God." Clara had been
sick, sick, sick, and during her previous hospitalizations, no one
had been able to figure out what was wrong with her. Clara told me
that the other children had made fun of her for being so small and
sickly. She was worried she was going to die, just like her
And now, with the help of the HIV medicines, she sees herself as
"strong and healthy." And, happily, she is right.
I love to learn the stories of these children of my heart. I did
not write this to try to convince anyone reading it to give money.
And I know that $100
a month is not a small thing -- but it also means CLARA, strong
and healthy and laughing and doing well in school and feeling
(And look at what today's sponsor letter - from a "sister" to
Clara - says: "I want to change the world by finding the
cure of AIDS that's why I am trying my best in