Life as they know it

The landscape was idyllic, filled with tree studded mountains and lush,green planted fields. We were on our way to the Liacom primary school on one of those rocky, pitted dirt roads that are more suitable for cattle than moving vehicles. Simon wanted to show me how poor the remote village schools were so we took our bag of dresses, and shorts and bought 200 ball point pens and headed up the mountain..We parked on the road and walked down the dirt path through the trees to a field of green. A typical village school, with barefoot children, some wearing worn out flip flops and dirty uniforms. It is almost impossible to talk with them since they are so afraid of grownups and barely understood English.
With dresses and boys ‘s shorts donated by, we picked out 24 girls and 7 boys and began helping them try the clothes on. Whether it was fear, shock or surprise, the kids were mute, except for a tiny little boy who began crying when we tried to put the shorts on him. Finally his 7 year old brother took him out of everyone’s sight and changed his pants.
Most of the parents here scream at their children and smack them with a stick, usually for reasons that have more to do with the parent. They are the punching block for all the frustration and problems mom or dad (if there is one) feel. Most of the people living in these rural villages earn less than $5 a month, eat what they grow, usually beans and maize and gather water from a stream. One of the five year olds had ringworm on his scalp but when I pointed it out to the teachers they just shrugged. Poverty breeds disease. As we left the school, I asked if the water tap in front of me worked. It had never been connected to the line so the school had no water. I promised to hook it up as soon as we could.

The woman who had organized the Widows and orphans group had 8 children, the youngest was 13 and was HIV positive. The child was born after she and her husband were diagnosed in 2000 with HIV. When I asked the woman why she
had another child knowing she was HIV, she said no one told them not to. The husband died in 2000. She has been on meds but the child does not qualify because her T-cell count is 800 even though she is positive. To qualify for free HIV medicine, a T-cell count of 350 or less is required. Even if the HIV test is sometimes given free, the lab work to get the T-cell number is not and costs between 5000-10,000 franc($10-$20 or half a month’s earnings). Few can afford this so they don’t get the meds and get sick and die. Or if the count goes below 350, their immune system is close to full-blown AIDS and many don’t survive even with the pills. Why doesn’t everyone get the medicine when they test positive? The lab tech at the hospital in Fundong explained the government doesn’t have enough pills even though they are donated by WHO, the Bill Gates Foundation and numerous other organizations.
It is a known fact among NGOs, that a percentage of HIV medicine given to African governments is pilfered and sold on the black market. When I asked someone why the donors don’t distribute the AIDS medicine themselves, I got the absurd response,” We want the African governments to be involved in their HIV programs”.

I gave the woman 5000 cfa ($10) to get a current count for her daughter who had a recurring rash on her legs that the doctors at the hospital seemed unconcerned about. I am waiting to hear what her T-cell count is now.

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