One Basic Need
These kids are different. They don’t look different. They don’t act different. They don’t even feel different…but they are. They know they are, which might be the greatest challenge these children ever face. They’re all HIV positive.
Amor Y Vida is an orphanage for children with HIV, just outside of San Pedro Sula. In many cases, the kids are orphaned by circumstance, wherein their family simply can’t afford to take care of them. In other cases, the parents are no longer alive to care for them, having been taken by the curse that now shadows their children. 39 HIV positive children, ranging from toddler to teenager, live on the property. And they are some of the most enjoyable kids you’ll ever meet.
When I first arrived it was late in the afternoon to meet one of the women that helped run Amor Y Vida. Monica, my friend was with me to translate. We pulled up to the red metal gate and as I got out of Monica’s truck one little boy pressed his face to the iron bars. He stared and within moments several other’s joined in. After the guard let Monica and I in, we were headed straight for the office, giving me just enough time to kick a soccer ball back and forth approximately 3 times before entering the office.
Our meeting was short. I asked a few questions about the property, and the children. Then we made plans for me to return the next day to help out with the kids. When we stepped out of the office, several of the same kids were there. One took my hand and walked me back to the truck. We were friends.
The next morning I returned. I jumped out of the truck, and in broken (very broken) Spanish tried to explain to the guard why I was there. Eventually, something worked and I walked to the office. The same lady welcomed me, then escorted me to a classroom where the children were studying. We walked in. The children all stood and applauded, then sat, or most of them anyway. A couple of my friends from yesterday walked over to me from their desks. They looked up and without a moment’s pause gave me a large hug before returning to their seats.
That afternoon, I did some yard work around the property, but mostly-I played soccer. By the end of the day, there is one thing that stands out. It’s not their sickness, or how different they act. What stands out is that they are children. They laugh when they’re having fun. They cry when they fall down. They get excited about cake and ice cream. They even argue-like normal kids- and sometimes have to be coaxed to share their soccer ball with the other children. They are no different than any child, except for that one invisible secret.
The older ones are especially aware of their demon and the stigma it bears. They’re still very friendly and engaging, as long as I don’t have my camera. They don’t want people to know. Because when people know, they’re treated differently. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but in this case it’s hell. It’s sad at this stage in life, when things are already awkward, that you can’t have something as simple as a high school crush without a storm of dark questions.
The younger ones are a little different. Their biggest concerns are winning a game of marbles, or scoring the next goal. Instead of shying from the camera, they want a picture on every swing, or standing in front of the flowers. They don’t understand what’s going on. Some of them don’t even think it’s real, according to the nurse who overhears them talking. I suppose the older ones felt that once too.
When I met with the soft-spoken director, I asked about their greatest needs. This time it wasn’t school supplies, or socks and shoes. This time it was a need that went much deeper. The kids need a psychiatrist. They need a counselor, someone to be there on a regular basis… someone to listen. They need the same thing we all need, to feel human.