At times, it seemed overwhelming as I interviewed HIV positive mothers knowing that if medical treatment does not continue, they will be taken from their families and beautiful children in just a matter of time. By day 3, I experienced and overall sadness. Sadness because I knew my times there was coming to an end, sadness that I could not do more, and sadness because although I know devastation and illness is prevalent in the world, there is an overwhelming sense of helplessness when a name is associated with a face. When you spend time getting to know these people, laughing, talking, hugging and just bringing them such a pure sense of hope even for a few short hours.
I thought about the 17 year old girl who was 9 months pregnant with HIV and only told her mother. Not even the father or sister know. I thought about how so many of the mothers breastfeed and are on ARV until their children reach 6 months. However, once a child goes to solid food, if the proper nutrition is not established (others in the household eat the food), more than half of the children die before the age of 2. I also thought of the many children in the orphanage we visited who were all blind. They lost their vision somewhere along the way and the families could not take care of them so dropped them at the orphanage. Many times, many children have no family to visit or come and pick them up for the holidays, so the 4 teachers who work at the center take many of the children to their home on the holidays.
I thought about the fathers and how there is such a stigma surrounding HIV. I thought about how alone so many of the mothers felt because their spouses either blamed them, left them, or were in denial and refused to go for testing. Many of these women endure the process alone and choose not involve family or friends so they are not stigmatized within the society. As I sat talking to many of them, they often broke down into tears. I was an outlet--someone they could release to, cry to, someone who would listen and not judge and someone who seemingly brought hope to their lives.
There is so much going through my head right now and so many emotions. It is at this moment I realize there was one element I was missing the entire week. How could I have gone to Lesotho and missed it when it is so very prevalent in our daily lives? The entire time I was dealing with sick children, sick mothers, blind students, understaffed workers and medical doctors, not once, not one single person ever "complained" to me about their situation. Nothing. Often they spoke of hope, felt encouraged and displayed acceptance of their situation. We so easily complain over the smallest discomfort, and here these people are with real concerns but smiling, living their lives through spirituality and not shackled to their own prison mindset of the "why me" syndrome.
Sometimes, when God puts something on your heart, you are to do nothing more than simply stand up and be heard. You have to stand up and speak for those with no means, and no voice. At times, people will be against you, challenge you, question or just plain walk away from you because they don't understand. When this happens, stand up in the face of adversity for a greater cause and for the good of others. Remember those words that you are "not easily broken." Remember the blogs, the images, the video and the links that I have shared with you. Remember those faces full of smiles and some with tears ALL WITH HOPE and all willing to pick themselves up and move forward.
"When things get tough and you feel like giving up, remember why you held on so long in the first place."
The people of Lesotho certainly live by this each and every day.
It is my greatest hope that you have enjoyed the journey to Lesotho and I was able to capture as much of the experience in a way to shine light on this concern. And it is my true belief that each of you will take this and do more than delete the blog or forget about it in a few days. This is a reality for so many everyday and if you reach just 1 person per day--you are making a positive difference for others.
I have attached a video I made of photos I took of my journey to Lesotho. I met, interviewed and photographed all these people- 90% of which have HIV. I will never forget their faces and as long as I live, I will continue to work to make an impact every single day of my life.
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With love always,