Monday, 8 November 2010

Uganda Wishes - The Saturday Club

Wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked towards the AIDS clinic at Mengo Hospital for the Saturday Club. I had heard up to eighty HIV positive children, mostly orphans, attend monthly. Usually the third week in the month. They’d changed the drop in this month for the Friends of Mengo Canada visit. We were bringing finger paints and home-made t-shirts from St. Michaels University School students in Victoria (British Columbia).
Outside the entrance we were greeted by some of the staff heating up what looked like milk in a huge pot over an outdoor fire-pit. As I followed them through the clinic we came upon a communal outdoor compound. I didn’t see a whole lot of smiling faces. It seemed the children sat to one side while the caregivers on the other. It wasn’t till much later that I realized most of them were grandparents.
The morning gathering began with song and prayer. Then the children lined up for some hand painting. One young boy kept coming up to me and touching my arms. I wondered if I was the first white person he’d seen and whether he was trying to understand why my skin looked so different to his.
The Saturday Club lines up for hand painting
Dr. Jim Sparling with Monica (11 years-old) HIV positive
Dr. Jim Sparling, Executive Director of the Board of Directors for Friends of Mengo Canada (also from Victoria) and I sat down to interview some of the children and their caregivers. He’s known as "Dr. Jim" at Mengo Hospital. But first he told me about Monica, now 11 years old. Diagnosed HIV positive, she’d made leaps of progress over the four years he’d visited. She had begun anti-viral treatment. Monica would later recite us a poem she wrote (see below). Then she would sing it. (I plan to have it posted to You Tube when I have access to sufficient band width).
Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT) was not something known to me. HIV/AIDS was. We spoke to Alice. She has three children aged ten, seven and two. Grace, her middle child suffered from frequent infections with attacks of Malaria and chronic coughs. She worried about her. Two years ago during her third pregnancy, Alice came to Mengo Hospital and was tested and found to be HIV positive. For Grace’s pregnancy she had attended a community clinic and had not been tested.

She was enrolled in the PMCT program at Mengo Hospital and given anti-viral medication. Her youngest child was born negative and has so far remained HIV negative.
After the delivery she brought Grace to Mengo Hospital to have her tested. She is HIV positive. Grace started anti-viral treatment and her health has since improved. She has fewer infections and she’s gained some weight.
I asked Alice what her wish was for the Ugandan people today and what she wished for the world.
Alice’s wish for the Ugandan people is that the children, as she put it “who are clever in the head will get the education.” Many can’t continue, she said, because of finances.
Her wish for the world was that there be an end to HIV/AIDS. The children born today, she said are innocent.
The morning progressed with playtime, then meal time. Most of the children were then gathered to receive the home-made t-shirts from the St. Michaels University School students and to pose for a group photograph.
It was such a motivating morning to learn about PMCT and to hear first hand how one innocent child had been spared by the ravages of HIV/AIDS.
That’s hope for the children in Africa. 

Our Ugandans
by Nakanwagi Monica, 11 years old
HIV Positive
Ugandans Ugandans Ugandans
It’s an erosion
The disease is very painful
Aids you are merciless
Children children
We need our rights
Medical care is our rights
Love and care
Our mothers are widows
Our fathers are widowers
Children we are orphans
They are parents
Go for PMCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission)
We need babies
Born free from violence
Leaders take a step
Obstain obstain
Obstain is our uphill.

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