Prepare to be offended if you dare. If colorful language offends you, if choosing to not find fault in a person’s HIV status offends you, well, maybe you should just eff off. Just to set the tone. And next time I need to use it, it won’t just be the eff word.
I am going to paint you several scenarios.
Firstly, a homeless family squatting in an abandoned building. A mother and her two babies. Mum rifles through garbage overnight to find resellables: cans, copper wire, water bottles. She makes about $2 on a good night, less than twenty cents on a bad one. She found out she was HIV positive five years ago when her husband fell ill. She soon found out that her elder son was also positive. So here is my first point that may cause offence: does it make you feel better that she was exposed to the virus by her husband? Would you feel less empathy toward an individual that was an intravenous drug user? A prostitute? Do you need to feel that a “victim”is innocent? Does there need to be a “victim?” Does there need to be an “innocent?” Is it her husband’s “fault?” Does someone have to be at “fault?” Can’t it just suck that this disease exists? And that this woman lost her husband, her job, her home, her friends, her life, her dignity to it?
Secondly, an international charity organization. An organization that has charged itself with the noble deed of assisting homeless HIV+ individuals and families gain access to medical care, housing, personal income production – without taking the children away and leaving the parents to die. The kind of organization I would give my own personal dollars to, based on the above.
Thirdly, donors. Donors that want to help children, babies, with HIV. Donors that want results: statistics of improved health, education. Donors that forget to ask about the baby mommas and pappas. And the unconditional love that those baby momma’s and pappa’s can give. And if those momma’s and pappa’s have sadly passed, donors should ask about grandma and grandpa, aunty and uncle, sister and brother. Because empowering a family to take care of their own is in the best interests of the babies and children. And it is far more cost effective than the Dickensian model of institutionalization that is sometimes irrationally favoured. Why go to the trouble and expense of building an orphanage when you could improve the foundation of a family? Why?
So back to scenario one. Why on earth is this family living/dying in filth? Particularly when HIV is one of the better funded issues in this country. Millions have poured in over the years so there should be options – surely? At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two basic reasons and I hope they both shock you – because they are both laugh out loud ridiculous. And they both relate to the second and third scenarios. Let’s start with the third. There is an acronym that is the politically correct way of referring to beneficiaries who are HIV+. It is PLHA and it stands for people living with HIV / AIDS. But in my recent experience it should stand for PDHA, switching the living to the dying. And I believe that donors should use this is an indicator, a bench mark, they should request the organizations they fund to convert people from PDHA to PLHA. And their “PEOPLE” should not just be children, their “PEOPLE” should be people. And don’t limit yourselves to children and mum’s and dad’s. What about those without kids? They are somebody’s kid, brother, sister. They are somebody. And they don’t deserve to be ignored either. I believe that when people switch from PDHA to PLHA, they are the most powerful advocates a community can have in relation to HIV awareness and prevention, thus reducing the cost of community education in awareness and prevention, effectually nullifying it in fact. But I have digressed as usual. The point I was trying to make is that there are simply not organizations out there to refer this case to. They don’t exist (or at least barely exist). Not because no one has thought to indiscriminately assist PDHA /PLHA. But because there is no money in it. It isn’t sexy enough. Emaciated, sick kids = $$. Empowering families to take care of their own is not so sexy. I can call numerous organizations right now and they will swoop in and take both kids off this momma, give them access to medical care, food and education. If the kids are extra lucky they will get to see their mum from time to time. While she slowly dies alone. I told this momma as much but she already knew. And it torments her. And no momma should ever have to consider such a decision, especially when her kids are the reason she fights everyday for their collective existence.
But we did find one. We found an organization to help. Residential, medical, followed up with income production after they gained their health. Refer scenario 2. BUT. I have found more and more that there is almost always a BUT.
I didn’t mention earlier that there is more than one family group in this situation. They have met over the years and have come to live together for support and protection. They help each other out when they are sick, didn’t find enough cans, need a laugh or a cry. Their emotions change on a daily basis. Bitter, angry, happy, grateful. Hot, hungry, thirsty, sick, dirty, clean. It makes me uncomfortable when they cry over receiving a meal. Because nobody should ever be that desperate. But they are also feisty. I admire their feistiness. It is a strong indicator that they haven’t given up yet. They curse – a lot. Cursing is my personal strength in the local language. I know how to differentiate between cursing for emphasis, for anger, for insult, for a laugh. And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t begrudge these individuals, these people, the self expression that swearing can provide. Which brings me onto the second reason.
So finally, two weeks after contacting aforementioned organization and confirming there were vacancies in their program, their field worker visited, and left soon after. They had met in the past. And the field worker said they had been exited from the program for cursing staff. Fuck your mother. Those three words. Granted, it was repeated, again and again and again. Fuck your mother! Fuck your mother! Fuck your mother! Joi mei mai! Joi mei mai! Joi mei mai! But really? Come on. Add a layer of skin or ten before engaging in your line of work. If they had shoes to wear you should try standing in them, maybe have a walk around, as Atticus Finch would advise. Because maybe then you would join the Joi mei mai chorus, rather than deciding that somebody deserves to die in filth for their potty mouth.
So back to donors. Do you ask charities their beneficiary “exit policy” before you give them all those dollars? Are you asking for unrealistic expectations of “successes” for your dollars that are pushing them to force out those that don’t conform, the harder cases?
Charities: do you feel so pressed to present the families that you saved to the donors and the world that you feel ok about showing the door to the ones you think might take too long? Or are harder to deal with? That have anger to express that comes in the exultation of the Eff word? Did you forget what the money was entrusted to you for? To help those that need it most? Or do you expect people to bow and scrape and show how desperately grateful they are in order for you to spend somebody elses’s money on them?
I really wanted to add in religion. Because there is religion involved in this. But then this post may never end. And I don’t want too much hate mail this week. I am tired and angry enough. But don’t worry, I’m wearing my extra layers of skin so if I’ve made you mad enough to curse my mother – bring it on! She won’t mind a bit, she taught me well enough to understand that most insults you receive in life are misdirected, sometimes you just get in the way of the anger. And sometimes that can be the best thing you do for a person: let them get the anger out. So let it out.
But really, what to do? Ridiculous is that we even came across these families because they should have already been assisted and should be doing well on their own as PLHA.
The joy is one of the other mothers gave birth to a beautiful baby boy the other day. Amongst the filth.
And the funny is that he is the cleanest thing there. At least for now. And she hasn’t named him yet, but she is leaning towards the Khmer word for “hurry”. Because he was quick, too quick for her to get to the hospital. But he better grow up quick if he wants to get to know his mum. So maybe it is the best name in the world for this beautiful little boy.