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Partners in Hope – Malawi

Partners in Hope is a hospital serving clients with HIV/AIDS. Yesterday was an especially full day. We had planned to visit two patients so the vehicle and driver had to be arranged. We finally got the Land Rover and headed out around 10. The first patient was about an hour away on a very bumpy road that seemed to go on forever. His house was a simple but nice brick one that the patient built himself before his accident. Now 4 years later he sits on the ground/ floor and moves around scooting with his hands while sitting. No one knows what damage actually occurred but his legs are severely contracted at the knees and the hips and he sits with his feet close to his body. His lower back is severely rounded as a result of staying in this position so long. I tried to get more range in the knees but only gained small amount and he said it hurt in the front and back of the knee. He looks like only skin and bones but with the treatment for HIV/ AIDS he must be feeling stronger because he says he wants straight legs and to walk. We offered trying to see if we can adapt a chair with arms for him to sit in at a table so he can engage in activities with his hands. Monday, I will return to his home to get a feel for the feasibility of this idea and measure if it seems to be worth the try. There is an expert carpenter at the Partners in Hope Hospital who agreed to fabricate a custom chair for this man. Then we will need to cushion it in specific areas for comfort and to prevent skin breakdown.

Our next visit was to a little girl who looked about 12-18 months and was not walking. Her mother was very sick with HIV when the little girl was born so she didn’t receive the nurturing babies need. An aunt took over her care but I don’t know at what point. When I asked when she was born I discovered she had recently turned 4. She had significant gross motor delays obviously and below her knee appeared thinner, seemed to have stiffness but her calves seemed like jelly. She acted fearful of me but did use a crayon a little, and pulled the white paper on back of foam stickers using both hands and in a fairly coordinated way. She was reported to pull herself to stand and do a lot of talking but not while we were there. Again history is quite lacking and it appears that her situation has not been investigated regarding possible medical or nutritional issues contributing to her delays and stunted growth. There are clearly psychosocial issues but perhaps a pediatrician with experience serving children with special needs might be able to determine if (treatable) medical/ nutritional issues might be present as well.
The night after these visits my heart was heavy. I shared only a few true life examples of how AIDS plays out in the lives of tens of thousands (probably more I suppose) in Malawi, on this continent and beyond. There is often shame and a sense of hopelessness. They need to be accepted, receive tangible acts of love and have hope. That unconditional love and hope ultimately is found only in the Gospel of Christ and I sense that the staff are sensitive to the fact that sharing Christ is a process that progresses naturally and so often is based on trust gained. I learned of the holistic approach they take here at Partners in Hope Hospital as they try to come along side the patients with free testing, treatment and advocates to help them face and work through options to the complex issues that have come to a head with their diagnosis. Patients who have been treated successfully and are suitable to work as paid advocates may be able to help discouraged clients in new ways because they’ve been there and come through stronger. My heart is heavy with the impact of AIDS and poverty on only these two individuals, how the Lord’s heart must feel with the scope of pain being experienced here. On the positive side, we have met a number who are working here to share peace with God through Jesus and there are seminaries for training nationals in God’s Word so they can be godly pastors who effectively preach God’s Word.

What do you do with 45 girls and only 16 sun catchers (those projects from Michaels to paint and hang in the window- sort of imitation stained glass) to work on? I had no idea how to handle the dilemma but Charity, the staff person, knew right away what to do. You break the girls into 8 circles of 5 or 6 girls each.  Each individual did not have their own but each group had 2 and took turns painting the sun catchers. That means that they couldn’t take creations home but it became a group project and it was decided that they would decorate a window in the waiting room for everyone who comes in for testing, treatment or counseling. Brilliant solution! It was a little disorganized but it wasn’t chaos and they enjoyed it. Some even thanked me!

That was part of the Teen Club that took place today (Saturday morning). HIV positive kids from 9- 13 yrs old come Saturday mornings every two months. It is a multipurpose meeting/club for being checked for signs of disease, receiving medication for 2 months, making friends with others in the same situation, having fun, attending a pep rally for taking your medicine consistently, problem solving together how to “adhere” to taking medication, discussing consequences of taking the medicine vs not taking it and finally partaking of a delicious lunch  before heading home ( no leftovers were seen on any of the plates of the more or less 65 “teens”) The ones doing the teaching are called “expert clients” who have been through the Teen Club and are now mentors and role models for the current Teen Club. What a creative approach to getting the kids themselves to buy in to what they have to do to stay healthy. It was like any other group of children that age and I didn’t see any who looked sick.