A different Saturday

Yesterday it’s been a very intense and emotional Saturday after a full week spent with Soft Power.
I went back to the Budondo Health Clinic with Rachael for the initiative we started last week with doctor Ben’s help.
After meeting him at the beginning of the week, we were scouting the place and getting as many information and help as possible to have all the video and photographic material we could get.
The work is going to be finalized during the next couple of months with the creation of a website and the videos and photos post production.
I was taking care of photos and portraits, logistic, groups/families organization while Rachael filmed the interviews and asked some of the questions.
Ben has been great in being a kind of moderator asking questions in the local language in order to have all patients feeling as much comfortable as possible. They know him very well.

As mentioned earlier, awareness about illness like HIV and founds to have projects and clinics like that running are really big issues.
Having people so passionate, kid, helpful and open like doctor Ben can be a lifesaving and it’s by far the most important ingredient.

We were not expecting so many people. The queue outside the center was incredible.
We’ve been introduced to the patients and their families before starting. The large majority of them are HIV positive, aging from 4 to 75 years old.
Ben reinforced the message of the reason why we where there and the counselor Nakato was extremely helpful as well in coordinating all families and providing us the list of their names and some other details. She is 49, HIV positive, in a family of 10 members. Nakato is volunteering there, she really knows what it means going though that and since many years she is making aware and helping out individuals and families HIV affected.

The response has been much higher than expected, so we started as soon as we can around 10am to finish at 5.30pm, non stop. We could not keep so many people, mainly children under the sun for too long. Not sure how many dozens of bottles of water I’ve been distributing during all day.
It’s been exhausting and very touching.

All of them were so patient and open. So keen in sharing their thought, difficulties and challenges. I was really impressed.
We got different combinations: couples HIV positive, grandmothers who were left alone in taking care of their sons’ children because they died (mainly because the HIV); the most frequent case was a single mother left alone to look after her children.
All of them with an average of 3-4 children, up to 8.

Pretty much all parents/grandparents were HIV positive. It was great to see the majority of the children was not. This is a great example on how prevention, awareness and constant therapies can have a incredibly positive impact on the affected families.
However I think those were not a statistically relevant number: who was there yesterday, knew a lot about the problem, goes to the clinic much more often than the average so are the ones getting the treatment. All the people who don’t go there, are left apart, with extremely limited resources and help.

There are different reasons why people don’t go at all to the clinic, don’t follow the right treatment or it has a very limited effect. Extremely common issues are:
– Financial issues. By far the most recurring issue that is causing indirectly the majority of the following ones.
– Patients cannot afford going to the clinic, the limited transportation can be too expensive for them.
– Limited food supply and its lack of nutrients. HIV drugs can be very debilitating and they should be taken with an appropriate diet. It’s pretty much never the case here.
– Awareness, again. If parents don’t take necessary precautions and treatment in time, the risk of having HIV positive children is extremely high.
– Limited drugs supply.
– Often they live in very poor conditions, not being able to pay school fees, clothes and hoping it does not rain otherwise it would be leaking everywhere in their houses. Several children are always walking barefoot: they cannot afford buying shoes.

At the end of the working day Rachael and I looked at each other extremely tired, but happy for the unique experience, the people we had just met and the amount of testimonials and material we have been able to collect.
I cannot wait to share their detailed stories: they always looked so humble, strong, and displaying great dignity. They were smiling, crying, talkative and full of hope for more help and support in their lives.

We spent a couple of hours to recover and get something to eat in the late afternoon, in order to get ready for a child’s birthday we got invited to.
Do you remember about Junior? It just turned 6 yesterday. No signs about the malaria and he’s up running and smiling more than before.
We bought a cake from town and several chapati with nutella.
His house is small and simple like all the ones around here. Not leaving in one made out of mud is already a luxury.
We had to wait a bit, he went to the church for a sort of birthday blessing. His big brother was so happy and thankful for what we were doing, also if it could look like so small and insignificant to the majority of the people of the world we are familiar with.

You should have seen the truly happiness in the children’s eyes starring at the cake and tasting the chapati.
The astonishment of Junior once he arrived arrived home was even bigger and, for us mzungu, amazing: he could not stop to star at the cake.
I wonder if any of them attending the improvised party have ever got one. It did not look like.

The night ended with a superhero party at the campsite full of mzungu. At the same time a weird and nice break after a such intense day and week full of unique feelings.

In the meantime, here I’m spending very lazy Sunday afternoon (not sure when it was last time I had one) writing a couple of notes down and enjoying, not necessarily in a specific order:
– the smell of the rain;
– two yellow butterflies against the blue sky, chasing each other in an apparently never ending love dance;
– a large group of small monkeys jumping from one tree to the other looking for a shelter for the shower;
– the peaceful view of the Nile;
– the feeling of the sun under the skin;
– the feeling of being in a totally different dimension.

PS: Congrats to my cousin Tommaso for his wedding yesterday. I missed it to be here.


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