Searching for Change

May 25th

Today I met with our staff, had a brief meeting and then went with a field officer into the village of Mbatwe. This village sits near the Beira airport, a few hundred yards from the runway. Although only a small handful of planes land here each week, it is safe to say the people living near the tarmac haven’t ever traveled.
The village was clean – much cleaner than I remember last time. The homes are tidy and the sand outside is swept carefully. The trash is piled in neat pyres and burned in the evenings, leaving the morning air thick with a plastic odor. There were more latrines dug and being used and a few community wells that seemed rather well protected and maintained.
Walking through the village, you got a sense of well-being and pride. Children chased us everywhere we went, playing tag and begging to have their photos taken. Women and men of all ages waved at us as we walked by. They were picking rice in their paddies, mashing corn in large wood mortar and pestles, washing their laundry in buckets.
But when our field officer walked us a bit deeper into the village, the children who had been relentlessly following us suddenly fell away. Home after home we visited with people who were dying of HIV. Their bodies mere skeletons and their souls quickly fleeting. They told us that although they‚Äôd done what we‚Äôd asked ‚Äì been tested and enrolled in the free antiretroviral program ‚Äì the drugs had stopped. The hospital is temporarily out of stock, leaving thousands in these villages without the drugs they need to stay alive. With a two-week gap in coverage, God only knows how the virus mutates and then becomes impossible to treat. Simply, these people are dying and there is no one willing to care for them. Stigma surrounds their tiny huts. The system — widely touted — is failing them.
You grow a certain thickness of skin in this work. You have to. But today was just brutal. The last family we met with was a woman who had three girls aged 7, 3 and 1. The mother is HIV-positive and was told not to breastfeed. Her youngest is dying of malnutrition. Without her antiretrovirals, she is too lethargic to consider how to solve this problem on her own. Her neighbors are looking the other way. I sat, holding the three-year-old, and couldn‚Äôt believe how a child of just 15 pounds could have survived this long. We split a protein bar, the only food we had with us, among the four and watched as even the one-year-old carefully ate every morsel. I couldn‚Äôt hold back my tears. I won’t ever be able to describe the desperation I felt in this moment — or how this mother must feel watching her children die at her feet because she too is succubming.
I don’t know what to do for Mozambique, Mbatwe or even this family. I don’t know how to stop a disease that is wiping entire generations off the map. I don’t know how to draw attention to this problem or what to do with the attention if I had it. There are no simple solutions with HIV in Africa. But I know today, more than ever, I won’t stop fighting for the solutions.


Posted in
Africa, Journal, Public Health, Travel
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27 Responses

  1. Oh Kelli. Whie I was reading, I shuddered as a chill went through me on a 95 degree day. I am horrified that children and families have to suffer like this. It breaks my heart that mothers and children have to die in this way, while I have more to eat than I could ever need. You are making a difference my friend….one step at a time.

  2. It’s terribly sad. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you to see this. I don’t think there is any skin that thick.

  3. Jennifer May 25, 2007

    Hold on to the fact that you make a difference, however small, every day you live and love in Africa or wherever you are. Your kindness really means something! In fact, sometimes I think kindness and compassion are all that we have and all we can give to the human suffering around us. I’ll be praying for you and your team.

  4. I don’t even know how to express the emotion that this posting evoked….

    huge hugs to you. my heart is with you…

  5. Nichole May 25, 2007

    Thank you for what you do! We often get way too comfortable in the states, living in our little bubbles of life and are oblivious to the horrible destruction and injusticce that goes on in this world. Thank you for reminding us! Hopefully others who read will be inspired by you to make a difference somehow whether it be in a small way or large one!

  6. Kelli you are amazing for what you do! My father-in-law is a doctor and does the same work in Nigeria. My husband, his brother’s and his mom have all been and their stories are eerily similar. I hope you continue to do your good work and keep sharing your experiences with us!

  7. keep it up, kelli. the world needs you.

  8. oh man. you make it real for those of us here in the states living our posh lives. keep it up girl!

  9. Thanks for bringing that room into mine. You are doing a great deal by simply spreading the word. Traveling mercies.

  10. so sad to read about these families. but your being there and tending to their spirits and their stomaches, as much as possible, makes a difference in their lives.

  11. Sleep tight young one, rest… you can start all over tomorrow.

  12. You are an amazing human being. I found your journal linked to someone else’s blog (I can’t recall whose) and I bookmarked it. You are where I WANT to be. Only I CAN’T be because my own immune system is so compromised from Systemic Lupus complications. I’ve never BEEN to Africa. I am a Native American from the Comanche tribe. But there’s been a part of me so drawn to Africa – particularly East & South Africa – for nearly 25 years. I donate $$ to various organizations there in the only way I have of supporting attempts of people like you to help. But Kelli – my HEART wishes to BE there. Thank YOU for being there – for giving us who can’t be some first-hand insight to a very sad situation. What do YOU think we here can do that would be most beneficial to the people of Africa? Sending you strength and smiles from Houston, Texas.

  13. Kelli, you are making the world a better place.

  14. Kelli, The only way to help is with help from the world. Document everything, lots of pictures and stories. Bring it to the public. One person can make the difference. That one person is you.

  15. Ah Kelli, I don’t have any words. You are making difference.

  16. One step at time, it’s the only way. Keeping in mind there’s people suffering, donate to charities’ organizations anytime we can, not closing our eyes and ears, talking to anyone willing to listen about those situations, vote for resolutions to help the countries in need, save resources in the advanced countries so to have more for others, and help in any way people like you who’s doing something practical. I can’t think of anything else right now. Just one more thought: you may feel helpless, but think about the alternatve, doing nothing at all coz of the hugeness of the problem. Wouldn’t it be worse?

  17. Judy in Carefree May 26, 2007

    Kelli, having seen the suffering in Kenya, it breaks my heart to hear what you are seeing. Any small difference you can make is wonderful and you need to to remember that. Hope you got your luggage!

  18. i guess the good of this is that now that you’ve seen the problem up close & you have the drive & passion you can help. i’ll be praying for your continued strength.

  19. Kelli, your words have such an impact… you’re doing a world of good!

  20. Rikki May 26, 2007

    Thank you for your bravery Kelli. Thank you for not allowing this to be hidden. Thank you for letting us get a tiny glimpse of the devestation you are seeing. Thank you for showing the world through your words and pictures what is going on. You are make sure people know what is happening. Ignorance is being stamped out one reader at a time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  21. This is heartbreaking. I am not sure what you do to stop this disease in Africa. It is so sad that the children of these people suffer from things such as malnutrition because their parents are dying and no one will stop to help them. Thank you for your work there. Even if you only touch the life of one person, it will be well worth it!

  22. Kelli, I try to imagine what you are going through there, but I can’t. The desperation you must feel. Know that you have someone here in the little city of Birmingham, Alabama praying for you and Africa. It is such a tradgedy to think of the need there and the abundance here.

  23. Kelli, thanks for sharing this. I’m at work reading this with tears in my eyes. You are my hero today.

  24. You are putting a very real face on our work here for AIDS Walk SF. I am going to print out this post and display it at our fundraising/recruiting event this Friday. So far, a few thousand dollars raised – and soon – a lot of awareness. Be safe and share your smile.

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