When Margaret found out that her foster daughter, Doreen, was HIV-positive, she was ready to give up. But through Compassion's AIDS Initiative, Margaret and Doreen receive the love and support to survive this terrible diagnosis.
At first, Margaret thought the cries she heard were just her imagination. She was in a remote area. Only poor farmers like herself would venture to this stinking, swampy plot of land to satisfy their thirsty animals. It certainly wasn't a place she liked to go and was no place for a child. Yet, there they were again.
Shrill, panicked cries. Margaret had raised nine children; still she had never heard a cry of pain like this. Just up ahead the grandmother saw her goats nudging a small straw basket that lay mired in the mud. She peered inside. The infant was naked, her skin crusted in mud and blood. As the baby wiggled, Margaret could see dark, finger-shaped bruises on the child's neck. Suddenly the grim reality of the scene became apparent. There was only one reason a mother would bring her child to this desolate spot. Only one reason why a nurturer would turn murderer, wrapping her fingers around her own child's neck. Only one reason a desperate mother would feel she had no choice but to leave her child for death to claim.
Pushing such horrible thoughts out of her mind, Margaret reached inside the basket and picked up the abandoned baby girl. Her wrinkled hands softly patted the child's back until her cries had faded to shaky gasps. Margaret began the long walk back into town, her stooped body curved protectively over the child in her arms.
Neglect and Abuse
Margaret took the baby home while she searched for the parents. When nobody came, Margaret named the child Doreen and this grandmother of six became a mother again. The elderly woman's decision came with struggles. Doreen was constantly sick. Each time Margaret rocked the feverish child to sleep, she struggled to push aside those fears that surfaced the day she found the abandoned baby.
Margaret didn't need to take Doreen to a doctor to know that she had AIDS. She had seen enough children in her village die of the horrible disease to know the symptoms. She also knew that, without a job, she could never afford to provide the medical care Doreen needed. As much as Margaret had grown to love Doreen, she felt she could no longer care for her. She eventually found a neighbor who would take Doreen in. I've abandoned her again, thought Margaret as she walked away from Doreen's cries. But Margaret made sure to check on Doreen often, and one day she found her tied to a tree like a dog, ignored and neglected. Shaking with anger, Margaret untied the crying child and took her back home. She hadn't rescued Doreen from the swamp to abandon her to abuse.
"I prayed for her constantly."
Over the next few months, Doreen's health continued to worsen, and Margaret's frustrations grew. Some days, when the sick child lay weak and crying, Margaret regretted her decision to walk toward the cries she heard on the day she found Doreen. She couldn't handle watching this child die. In those moments of desperation, Margaret felt a twinge of empathy for Doreen's birth mother. That poor woman couldn't face watching her daughter die a nightmare that Margaret was living each day.
Margaret woke up from her nightmare the day she heard that a local church, in partnership with Compassion, was opening a Child Survival Program (CSP) in her village. She was persistent through the registration process, and Doreen became the first child registered. A few weeks later, the results of Doreen's first health screening returned.
"I was so sad when Doreen got ill and I found out it was AIDS," says Margaret. "But I had made up my mind to look after Doreen as my own. There was no way I could abandon her like everybody else had."
Celebrations in the Midst of Trials
Margaret's decision to care for Doreen had weighty consequences. Their days were often filled with doctor's appointments that were an hour's walk from home. Margaret had to carefully monitor Doreen's medications and nutrition.
But in the midst of the trials, Margaret found blessings. Because of Compassion's AIDS Initiative partners, Doreen's medical bills were covered, as well as the extra food she required. Her health has improved, and this once abandoned, sickly infant is now an active 4-year-old who loves to play house with her favorite doll. Doreen has graduated from CSP, and she is now in Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program.
Margaret struggles to express her thanks to those who have given life to her daughter. "I don't know what to say," says Margaret, her voice choked with emotion. "Thanks to the staff and the church, Doreen can get care. Without their support I wouldn't have made it this far." The day Margaret found Doreen, covered in mud, blood and disease, she believed, deep inside, that she had found an abandoned treasure. As the bond between this mother and child grew, Margaret knew she would give up everything she had to save her treasure. Thanks to our AIDS Initiative supporters, she didn't have to.