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Kenyan Mother With HIV Saves Lives

Dec 26, 2007
The message on Sarah's T-shirt is intended to shock people: HIV POSITIVE. These bold words on her self-made shirt are there because she is on a mission to save lives.

Sarah, who lives in a poor, dusty neighborhood in Kenya, is HIV-positive. Living with the disease for more than 16 years, Sarah has found herself near death many times.

Sarah's 8-year-old daughter, Sherley, is also HIV-positive. Yet Sherley is blessed to have a sponsor through Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry that releases children from spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty.

Through Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program, Sherley enjoys health care, nutritional supplements, educational opportunities, biblical training and much more. She also receives lifesaving benefits through Compassion's AIDS Initiative, such as medical checkups and treatments to help her stay strong.

Sarah wears her T-shirt to fight the heavy public stigma surrounding the disease in Kenya. Sarah knows firsthand that people who are HIV-positive are often abandoned by family and friends who are afraid of catching the disease.

Others believe that anyone who has HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), must be promiscuous and deserves the consequences of that behavior. Still others fear that people will think they too have HIV if they stick by their stricken friends. Tragically, many people who suspect they may be HIV-positive refuse to be tested.

Sarah has seen too many grow increasingly ill with HIV, uncared for and alone. And that makes her angry. "Stigma and discrimination are killing people," she says. So in her fight against HIV, Sarah preaches abstinence, promotes HIV testing for everyone, and encourages aggressive medical treatments for victims. She also challenges Christians to overcome fear and ignorance, and embrace HIV victims with the love of Jesus. She knows what she is talking about.

Sarah's husband, brother and sister died from AIDS and she was left alone to raise not only her three children but also the five children of her siblings - all while she dealt with her own HIV-positive status.

"There was no one to take care of them," Sarah explains. "If I had not watched over them, they would have gone into child labor, prostitution or early marriages in the village. I was not going to make that mistake - so I struggled and took care of them." Her family's experience is not unique.

Through Compassion International's AIDS Initiative, AIDS-affected children and their families receive AIDS awareness education, health screening and medical tests, food supplements and lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that can dramatically inhibit the progression of AIDS. Sarah explains, "ARV therapy has changed us from just people who are HIV-positive to people who are living positively!"

It wasn't always that way for Sarah. Initially, she lived in denial of her disease. Denial turned into depression. But after several years of anguish and fear, Sarah came to grips with her circumstance and began making choices that built a new future.

In addition to caring for her newly enlarged family, two years ago Sarah and three friends co-founded a support group in their church for people with HIV.

The four women - all HIV-positive, all with children sponsored through the Compassion International program - began supporting and encouraging each other in their daily battles. Their hope spread, and soon others from the community joined the group, which now has 50 members.

A key distinctive of Compassion International's AIDS Initiative is that it is coordinated through the local church. Every aspect of the initiative is Christ centered and administered in Jesus' name.

Consistent medical care, unconditional love and spiritual growth embrace AIDS victims who receive benefits through the churches in their communities. These churches, whose members are committed to caring for AIDS victims long term, are giving renewed hope and health to women like Sarah and their children.

Through the church and the AIDS Initiative, Sarah's support group also received a grant to help its members start income-generating enterprises. Sarah makes glass-bead jewelry.

Others sell dry goods from their homes, roast and sell nuts, and make decorative bedspreads to sell. These businesses provide desperately needed money so these mothers can supply food, clothing and shelter for their families.

One group member explains what life was like before she and her son received help from Compassion International's AIDS Initiative: "I often got sick with malaria and my son suffered constantly from pneumonia. By taking the ARV drugs through Compassion International, we are now stronger.

Compassion International has given us a new start, a chance to live normally again. I now have a purpose, whereas before I thought I would die quickly. But that is not so because of Compassion International. I now live with a fresh start."

Sarah's experiences with the horrors of HIV and her unwavering faith in Christ have also given her a unique perspective on her life. People are shocked when she says, "I am grateful to God for the virus!

The virus has made me realize my purpose in life, and I now enjoy sharing my personal experience to influence others. I have been living with HIV for 16 years now. At the age of 40, I have seen my first grandson. This is amazing! Compassion International is why I'm still alive today and I can now assist others."
About the Author
Compassion, a nonprofit organization, depends on generous sponsors and tax-deductible contributions to continue saving lives. If you would like more information on this life-changing Christian ministry, or if you would like to sponsor a child visit www.compassion.com or call (800) 336-7676.
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