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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why would a husband and wife arrive at our front gate to give us their two children?


Last Saturday, shortly after I posted this blog, a young family arrived at the front gates of Project Canaan.  They had “bummed” a ride to a gas station on the main road and then walked the 8KM (5 miles) to our farm with their 4-year old son and 10-month old sick baby.  They came to the farm to give us their children.  Yes, you read correctly. They couldn’t feed them. The man couldn’t find work to provide for his family and the baby was very VERY sick. 

What kind of conversation has to happen between a man and wife to get to a decision to give your baby(s) away?  I am not sure I want to even go down that road in my own mind and contemplate the possibilities.

But there they were, all for of them at the gate.  I was sitting drinking coffee on the patio of our home, totally unaware of what was happening, but our team was AMAZING and couldn’t have done anything to make us more proud.  Peter was called to the gate and he asked Stanley to join him (to help with the siSwati). After a long talk with this young family they knew that they must help, but not by taking their children.  The family needed immediate assistance and they needed hope for the future. 



Peter asked the father why his family was hungry and sick?  The man told him that work was hard to find and he was out of a job.  Peter then asked if we provided him with work, would he come?  The man jumped at the chance and said YES!  Peter told him to come on Monday morning and he would be hired.   Have I mentioned that I LOVE our team!?!?  They really “get it”.   They understand why we are here and whom we are here to serve.

This family needed food, the father needed work and the baby needed medical care.  Peter and Stanley gave them 20 KG of rice, Manna Packs for both children and the information for them to contact the Social Welfare Office in Manzini for further assistance. 

They also gave them a ride back to the main road, a few coins for transport home and prayer that the Lord would have His mighty hand on them all.  The family used the money to go directly to the hospital to get care for the baby who had difficulty breathing apparent pneumonia and was almost unresponsive.

Monday arrived and the man arrived to work. We immediately asked about the baby and the father said that the hospital gave the baby an injection for his chest infection, but the baby was really sick. I asked if the baby was HIV positive (which can help ascertain if the baby has illnesses that are from an immuno-suppression).  The man said the baby had been tested and was HIV negative. He also said that both he and his wife were HIV negative. That is always great news to hear in a country where almost half of the population is infected.  Once HIV is a factor it changes how infections and sickness are approached.

Everyone who had seen the baby on Saturday (parents, Stanley, Peter, Denis, Anthony) said that the baby was malnourished and the mother had a very serious case of mastitis (infection in her left breast which she happily pulled out to show anyone who inquired about how she was feeling – very common here) so the baby couldn’t nurse from that side.  It was suggested that we get the mom and baby to hospital with the promise of paying the hospital bill because it was believed that they would both be admitted.

The man left the farm to go back home and tell his wife as well as to find someone to care for the 4-year old when the mother and baby were admitted to the hospital.  Tuesday morning I drove to the hospital where we were to meet. They were both happy and smiling and thankful for the assistance.  I asked to see the baby, so mom untied the towel which was holding the baby and pulled the baby off her back for me to see.  The baby was very weak and lethargic with no neck control of his little head.  His hair was thin and he looked to be malnourished to me.  But he also looked “sick”.

I asked the mother if she was sure that the child was not HIV positive. Without missing a beat she admitted to me, to her husband, and to anyone within hearing distance that the baby had tested POSITIVE.  I looked at the husband and looked back at her.  I then asked her if she would share her own HIV status with me?  It is highly unlikely that a baby would be positive if the mother wasn’t positive.  She nodded and said, “Yes, I am HIV positive too”. 

I looked at the husband and asked why he didn’t tell me that the day before when I asked him.  His response was that this is the first he was hearing the news. 

What the heck?

The next five hours were long and complicated so let me cut to the chase and tell you that after many questions, answers, confusion, lies and avoidance, the mother finally came clean and told me that:

-       She had an HIV test when she found out she was pregnant in late 2011
-       She didn’t tell her husband that she was positive because she was afraid he would run away
-       The husband had an HIV test (routine?) and tested negative (which I didn’t believe – again, highly unusual for her to be positive and not him, but possible)
-       The baby was born May 27th 2012 and was HIV positive
-       She didn’t tell the father about the baby’s status
-       The baby was sick on and off so mother took baby for new test in July 2012 and again he tested positive
-       She was to take baby back to Pediatric AIDS clinic to start treatment, but she was afraid and didn't go.
-       The baby was still sick on and off so she went back in January for another test (hoping the baby wasn’t HIV positive??? Not sure.)  Again the test came back positive and the baby was to start treatment immediately. She didn’t go back for treatment.
-       I suggested that the father go to the VCT (Volunteer Counseling and Testing Center for HIV/AIDS) and get re-tested.  Anthony from Project Canaan showed up at the hospital about that time so he went with the man.  The test was negative.

By the end of the day the baby and mother were admitted to the hospital and the baby was treated for pneumonia, thrush, malnutrition and would begin Anti-Retrovirals as soon as the Pediatric AIDS clinic came over and got him on the program.  The mother’s CD4 count is still over 500 so she will not start ARV’s at this time. She was treated for her mastitis and her “womb infection” that discovered mid-way through the day.  Sigh.

I spoke at length the father and Anthony did as well.  Our fear was that he would leave his wife (or beat her or kill her) because she had lied to him for so long about her HIV status and put her life, his life and the life of their baby at risk.  But he was very reasonable about the whole thing. Maybe he was in shock? I know I was. 

A few days later I visited the mother and baby in the hospital.  The baby was doing so well and responding well to the treatments.  He had an X-RAY to see if he also has Tuberculosis, but we don’t have the results from that back yet.  I asked the woman if her husband was really angry with her.  She said no, he wasn’t.  He had been in to visit and asked why she had lied to him. She explained that she didn’t want him to run away.  He told her he would never leave her and that they would get through this together.

The man is working on the construction crew that is building the Toddler home.  The mother and baby will be in hospital for a week or two and we will assist with their fees and transport when they are discharged. The 4-year old boy is living with his Grandmother until his mother comes out of the hospital.

It is so rare to see young married couples anymore in Swaziland. It seems like marriage is a thing of the past.  Maybe it is too expensive (lobola is required to be paid for a bride), maybe it is old fashioned, maybe people are dying too quickly of AIDS to bother with marriage?  But this young couple is married and they are a family who care for their children and want a future.  The team at Project Canaan is encouraged by them and even though the situation seems hopeless from the outside we are praying for total healing and forgiveness that will bring real hope to this family. 

Happy Easter from all of us at Project Canaan.
As I look forward to Easter Sunday tomorrow I am thankful for the hope that I have been given through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I don’t know what I would do or how I would cope with my own fears of life without knowing that El Roi sees me and cares about me.  I love watching His hand on others and give thanks that He sometimes allows me to have a glimpse of what He is up to.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind was now I see.”

Live from South Africa … I am preparing to celebrate the resurrection tomorrow!

Janine

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