Loving the Outcasts
— Analiz Schremmer · Tuesday, November 6, 2018 —
Patient zero: It’s the term used by epidemiologists to describe the first carrier of a disease. So what do we call the person who decreases its transmissions and betters the lives of its victims?
At Gan Sabra HIV Home and community outreach program in India, we call her Lucy.
When Lucy began working in community outreach, HIV positive mothers believed that if they were afflicted by HIV, their children would also inevitably have the immunodeficiency virus.
Thanks to Lucy’s efforts to educate mothers in the community about how the sickness is transmitted by breast milk; and thanks to the provision of nutritious formula, the number of infants with HIV in the local community is now zero.
Lucy and her staff at Gan Sabra are charging at the HIV virus from all sides. When they are not doing preventative work out in the community, they are opening doors of opportunity for those who are afflicted.
JESUS AND THE HIV POSITIVE CHILD
Ronne Rock, social media manager and two-time visitor of the Gan Sabra HIV Home and outreach program says that when someone in India has HIV, people often assume they were involved in some type of shameful behavior.
She paraphrases the story in John 9, where Jesus’s disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
Jesus basically responded that it doesn’t matter who sinned or whether anyone sinned, she explained. What matters is that through this person’s life, God will be glorified. What society might see as less than whole, God sees as whole and God’s glory will shine through.
Lucy has that same understanding as it relates to orphaned and vulnerable children affected by HIV.
“Lucy sees the person with HIV as fully capable of living a rich, purposeful and meaningful life until the day the Lord calls them home,” says Rock. “That frames how she looks at people who are affected or infected.”
Rock explains that people infected with HIV are often ostracized from society in India. Many of the 25 children living in Gan Sabra have been rejected by family, treated as sources of shame or even locked up due to their status.
Children with HIV in India are often deprived of an education because schools refuse to take them. But that’s not the case at Gan Sabra. There is a local school that has welcomed them, so they are not ostracized educationally.
“Here they are treated like family,” Rock says. “They are given every good medicine they can receive. They are fed well and cared for and are included in education, activities and community service.
Because the staff at Gan Sabra recognizes the value of these children, they receive the best care possible. And that’s a lot to say, because Gan Sabra is the only home in the state that accepts children with HIV at all.
“Not only do these kids have a place to live,” Rock says. “Here, they receive excellent holistic care.”
Lucy has reputable doctors analyze the children so they can understand and treat the full medical condition of each child.
“HIV affects every child differently,” Rock says. “For some kids, it might affect their ability to absorb nutrients. You can have one child that is very anemic and another child that catches colds a lot.”
In addition to the meds and a balanced diet (they grow many of their vegetables in house), the children receive supplements and vitamins. They are even taught how to carefully take medicines without fluid because if they are ever without access to water, it should not stop them being able to care for themselves.
“They have good play time and they appreciate the value of prayer,” Rock says. “They spend a lot of time praying for each other and praying for people around the world. And they have social workers on staff who walk them through the emotional ups and downs.”
And one of the most important things they have is family. The children and staff at Gan Sabra are a family to each other and they spend a lot of time playing and encouraging each other as a family.
“I think that’s what separates this place from other orphan care,” Rock says. “When a child feels safe and belongs, everything changes. Their health improves. They do better in school. Even people with terminal illnesses are strengthened. Even when the kids take medicines that have side effects that might make them feel bad, the impact is different because someone is there to hold them.”
Orphan Outreach has partnered with Gan Sabra for a number of years. Program Director Amy Norton says it was Lucy's commitment to the children that makes the partnership a powerful one. "When you walk into the Gan Sabra home and experience the atmosphere of the home, you would never realize these children have HIV until you see them take their medicine. It is a home full of joy, hope and laughter and that is due to Lucy’s care and love. Over the years, a number of the children have passed away due to their illness but the children embrace that reality and are so mature in their faith and the reality of living with HIV. We want to empower Lucy to share with others around the country about holistic care of children with HIV so that love and care is multiplied for these kids."