By Jennifer Agee (first published December 1, 2010)
Today is World AIDS Day. Living in a country so devastated by the virus it is impossible to look past the effects the AIDS crisis has had on this country. There are commercials here about how to have an HIV free baby when your partner is positive. There are Sesame Street type shows for kids about HIV/ AIDS and in the schools the examples given in their elementary school books often have a character with HIV. It is always heartbreaking to see someone in the final stages of AIDS, the sores, the pain the dementia characteristics. What breaks my heart even more are the children who have to fight this battle.
Yesterday, I received a call that an 8 month old baby girl at one of our children’s homes passed away. Her tiny body just had no fight left. At 8 months old she weighed only 4.5 pounds. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that women here have asked me to take their children because they fear what is going to happen to them once they pass away. The devastation is so bad that you cannot even make plans in a village or township on Saturday because that is the day they have the funerals. Everywhere you look on Fridays, there are tents in front of homes to accommodate the funeral guests. It is a weekly visual reminder of why we are here and a kick in the pants to not get lazy or to give up the fight.
True story, I carry condoms in my purse at all times – much to the embarrassment of my children. You may laugh but here’s the deal, there is a gas station on our way to the Transkei that has free packs of condoms in the bathrooms. Whenever we are passing through I pick one up and stick it in my purse. I always want to be ready in case a teachable moment presents itself. Yes, I believe in abstinence and that is the first thing I tell people. I also believe in education, this is power. I teach the mama’s who have sexually active children about how to talk to them about condoms and show them the proper way to put it on. The women always laugh when give a demonstration but their eyes are glued and they ask questions.
We must keep the conversation going about HIV/AIDS. It’s so important that once we are educated and informed we pass that information along to others. Call me a cockeyed optimist if you must, but I believe it is possible to have and HIV free generation in our lifetime.