Last week, I met Sheila at her school. It was a member of my staff who told me about Sheila, after she came to know her during an AHAPPY weekend, at a Catholic school in one of Nairobi’s very poor neighbourhoods. This weekend was organized together with a team from St Aloysius Gonzaga High School in Langata.
Sheila is 15 years old and she contracted HIV at birth. She is beautiful and intelligent. Sheila’s parents are no more and her aunt welcomed her, looking after her as if she were her own daughter. Sheila was made aware of her HIV status and put on antiretroviral therapy (ART). But she didn’t much like the centre where she was sent for treatment. It’s not a friendly environment for children because adults also go there. Add to this: confusion, getting fed up with taking medication, and so on.
So Sheila stopped going to the centre and ended up by stopping her treatment altogether. She remembers clearly when her last CD4 count was taken, just over two years ago now. Two years is how long it’s been since Sheila took her antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).
During the AHAPPY weekend, she learned how important it is to take HIV treatment, and to take it consistently. So she hoped to start treatment again. But what to do? Sheila discreetly managed to approach one of the workshop animators and shared her story with her, asking for help.
As a result, I met Sheila to talk with her, so that we could take stock of her situation together. When we met, a kind of hope animated from her. Hope? At any rate, there was Sheila’s firmly stated will to renew her treatment… to renew her life. I proposed dates for a CD4 count test and to make contact with a health centre not far from her school. Since the dates were not all that close, she told me, “and why not now?” Of course we immediately did all we could to make a reality of Sheila’s ardent wish to renew her life by starting treatment again. How many young people are in the same situation as she is?
Sheila is my message for Easter 2016. Sheila is the symbol of many adolescents who are her age, or even younger, who were born with HIV and ask for nothing more than to live, to live fully.
This time is an opportunity for me and the entire AJAN team to express our profound gratitude to all those whose generosity and support allows us to promote life and hope through our services.
Every year, Easter is a unique occasion to renew the true life offered to us by the risen Christ, who restores our dignity as children of God, and who invites us to rediscover the value of human life, not least in the most fragile among us, or those who may even seem insignificant to us. Through His resurrection, the risen Christ leads us to a desire for new life with Him.
May the risen Lord persevere in His work of salvation in our lives and fill us with His Easter blessings, giving us the grace to triumph over the many evils that threaten our societies, so that peace, love and joy may reign.
Happy Easter to all!
Paterne Mombe, AJAN Director, and the AJAN team