BENEFITING: FACE-TO-FACE PROJECT INC
As many of you know, I spent 6 months in Malawi in 2010. My volunteer trip to Africa was supposed to last weeks but quickly turned into months as I became more ingrained in each project. One of the projects that I will forever hold near and dear to my heart is a program we started for HIV+ kids. I was tasked with the job of starting a Teen Group for kids infected with HIV/AIDS; to educate them about their disease and to empower them to take control of it. For the better part of the next six months, I was consumed with figuring out how to run an effective Teen Group for positive youth, finding staff, a curriculum, goals and ultimately, the kids who were going to participate in it.
Who knew that meeting the kids would be the toughest part of it. It was that day, when I interviewed our first six kids, that I mentally extended my trip for as long as needed. The need for a support group for these kids was striking. The lack of knowledge about a disease that has such an incredible impact on their daily lives, and probably one day will take it, was mind blowing. Not to mention, these kids were just kids, wanting to be kids, cursed with one of the worst diseases one could imagine. Especially in Malawi, where treatment is minimal, and millions have died from it and still do.
It was quite an emotional experience to sit down with Steven, a ten year old, the size of a six year old and transition from questions about his age, what he likes about school, what he wants to be when he grows up, to questions about a disease that will probably land him in the hospital more times this year than I have been in my whole life. All he wants to do is play futbol.
Fast forward a year; this group, 15 youth, ages 9-18, have been meeting twice a month for the past year. Each meeting was designed to be educational, informative and fun. They learn about adherence (the single biggest thing that will keep them alive another year), nutrition, relationships, what HIV/AIDS is, and who to tell. We have brought professionals in from every career they are interested in to teach them more about what they can make of themselves. They now each have a Mosquito net, a hot meal each meeting, they ask questions, they talk openly, and most importantly, they have a place where they can fit in and be a kid just like everyone else.
Parents in the community come every month and beg for their kid to be a part of this group, yet we have to turn them away. The guardians of our children started coming themselves each meeting and have also formed a group. They come to learn, ask questions and express concerns, but also, it turns out, it is the one place where they are not alone in their suffering.
One of our girls, Beatrice died three weeks ago. Now I am not so idealistic as to think that this group is changing the world, but when I think of Beatrice (and Steven and Leandria and Honex), I think about what this group was able to give her in the last year of her life. If she was able to find any comfort or joy or happiness or friendship in that last year, than to me, it is all worth it. To give each of these kids something to look forward to, something that exposes them to more, a place for them to be nothing more than just a kid for just 4 hours a week, then it is all worth it. The rest is just an added bonus.
The fact of the matter is that the funding for this group is up at the end of the year. I cannot bear to see these kids go back to suffering alone, in the dark, from a disease that can be managed with education and knowledge. I am asking for your help in raising $4000 to keep this Teen Group going through 2012. I promised them I would share their stories, and now is the time. These kids need your help.