1 in 4 children in Lesotho are orphaned. This means that over 130,000 children – and roughly 9% of the total population of Lesotho – is missing one or both parents.
These statistics cannot be seen as unrelated. It is estimated that 65% of Basotho children have been orphaned because of AIDS and no family, or child, in Lesotho is immune from the devastating impacts HIV/AIDS has had –and continues to have -on this small mountain kingdom.
Today, December 1, is World Aids Day. TTL has been able to commemorate this day in the best way possible: a graduation from the safehome.
Lerato and I arrived at TTL at about the same time and her story has always stuck in my mind as the exact reason TTL is needed in the area. Here’s her story:
Lerato arrived at the safehome in mid-August. She was malnourished, showed poor developmental growth, and had tested positive for HIV just weeks before. Her mother had passed away from HIV related causes and she was being cared for by her aunt who suffers from the after-effects of a stroke. Immediately after arriving at the safehome Lerato started to show signs of improvement. She was started on ARVs and went from being very lethargic and barely able to walk to walking, dancing and even running around the playroom. She also loved to have her picture taken and would put on a very serious face until a second after the flash when she would dissolve into a fit of giggles.
However, while Lerato’s nutrition and health has greatly improved, she is still developmentally delayed. She celebrated her 4th birthday in October but her behaviour has often been hard to distinguish from children in the safehome who are 1-2 years younger. The safehome caregivers have worked hard with her, encouraging her to say words and feed herself, but it’s difficult to assess how much of an impact her HIV status – and long bouts of malnourishment and illness – has had on her development. But Lerato has also always seemed to be very influenced by the other children around her. During her stay at the safehome, when there were older children who were walking and feeding themselves, she was often more motivated to do these things as well.
When we took Lerato home to her aunt today, her brother and cousin were there to greet her. There were also about a dozen other children who had gathered to see what was happening. Hopefully with the influence of older siblings and playmates around, Lerato will continue to make improvements in her development – wanting to talk, and feed herself, and do all the other things the older children (and sometimes children of the same age) are doing. Combined with the nutritional and medical support that the Outreach team will continue to provide, hopefully for once the odds will be stacked in Lerato’s favour.
My one wish for this World Aids Day is that next year at this time, when Lerato will have turned 5 and the school year about to start again in January, she will be healthy, successfully taking her ARVs, and ready to start primary school with all the other children.