Dawit hasn't let being HIV-positive pull him down. Despite the hardships, he still has a positive outlook and is hopeful in the Lord.
The residents of a village on the outskirts of Addis Ababa hurry home trying to escape the piercing midday sun. Most walk in groups chatting, sharing stories and planning the rest of their days.
A woman walks the rocky hill alone after an exhausting but unsuccessful search for work. Her only companion is the nagging thought that her children will go to bed hungry tonight.
Suddenly, a nearby conversation catches her attention and stops her train of thought. A nearby church was going to register children for Compassion's program the following day.
That was four years ago when Dawit*, the woman's youngest child, qualified to be registered at a Compassion-assisted child development center at age 9. The educational support he now receives through the center provides him the opportunity to excel in school.
The Bible-study classes and the spiritual environment at the center have positively influenced him, and he is a disciplined and well-mannered youth. He is considered a role model by his peers and has gained the respect of his teachers and the center staff.
After Dawit was in the Compassion program for about a year, Mrs. Mulunesh, the center health worker, began to wonder about his repeated visits to health centers and hospitals, and his recurring health problems.
Pursuing the Problem
"I repeatedly asked Dawit's mother to tell me the problem with her brilliant and sociable boy," said Mrs. Mulunesh. "I started spending more time with his mother so that she would be comfortable enough to tell me whatever secret she has because I knew something was wrong. After a lot of one-to-one time with her, one day she asked me how I would feel if she told me that she was HIV-positive."
Though the mother's frail body and health made Mrs. Mulunesh suspect that she might have the virus, hearing this news was shocking.
Dawit's mother, reassured by the health worker's nonjudgmental reaction to her confession, decided to reveal yet another shocking fact. Dawit, too, was HIV-positive.
"I got him tested when his doctor told me to after his repeated health problems. It was hard to accept my son's results. His father abandoned us and it wasn't easy to raise my children alone," said Dawit's mother.
Shortly after this revelation, the center workers began the much-needed health interventions, thanks to funding from Compassion's AIDS Initiative, beginning by confirming his test results and consulting with health professionals.
Because Dawit's recurring pneumonia had debilitated his energy, the center workers started him on a special diet which helped him regain his strength. Ater seeing the results of Dawit's CD4 count, his doctor recommended that he immediately start antiretroviral therapy (ART).
After many visits to the health center and constant follow-ups by the center's health worker, Dawit's health began to improve.
A Sought-out Explanation
"The ART medication he started helped him so much," said Dawit's mother. "I make sure that he takes it every day and that he also eats properly. The only hardship I faced was answering his questions about the medication I made him take. Even though both his doctor and the health worker at the center advised me to tell my son his health condition, I refused for a long time because I was afraid he might not take it very well."
Dawit's maturity, optimism and cheerful character convinced his mother that it was best to answer him truthfully.
"I was curious to know why I was taking the medications," said Dawit. "I was happy they were making me healthy again. That's why I asked my mother repeatedly. One evening, after she gave me my medication she sat me down and asked me if I wanted to know why I take my medications.
"What she told me made me a little sad. But I told her that I heard in the radio that people with HIV/AIDS can live long and be happy as long as they take their medication on time. I believed that I would be one of those people who would be successful in spite of their misfortunes."
Dawit takes his medication twice a day, two tablets right after breakfast and two more after dinner. He says it was hard to get used to the medication at first because it has a strange taste. But after almost two years of taking it, he is used to the taste.
Dawit's positive outlook surprised the center health worker as well as his mother who had been walking on eggshells to hide her son's illness from everybody, including him.
Confident in Hope
Dawit, now 13, continues to live life like any other boy in the center. The special support he gets from the center has provided him with the proper diet necessary for the medication. The money he receives for food supplies has helped him maintain a balanced diet, which is necessary to keep him strong while taking the ART.
The health worker, Mrs. Mulunesh, and Dawit's mother go to the market together to buy the food for the children. They buy healthy foods like milk, rice, macaroni, sugar, cooking oil and meat, if there is enough money.
The steady advice and the open discussion provided to him and his mother by the center health worker has encouraged him to be more optimistic about his future.
"Dawit is a very dynamic young boy who has shown great resilience in his daily life," said Mrs. Mulunesh. "Nothing changed in the way he led his life and interacted with his friends after he learned about his situation.
"Sometimes, he gets too tired to play with his friends, but most of the time he does everything his friends do and plays with them. He is also a good student who is very focused on being successful."
Dawit goes to the doctors once a month to evaluate his health and to receive advice concerning his health.
The advice he gets from the doctor as well as the center health worker has benefited not only him but also his mother, who now takes the necessary precautions by feeding him well, getting him immediate medical treatment when he gets sick, and making sure he takes his medication.
With all this support, Dawit hopes he will be able to grow up and realize his dream of becoming a doctor. He wants to help children who suffer.
Walking Forward in Joy
"Had it not been for the timely intervention of Compassion, Dawit wouldn't be here," said Mrs. Mulunesh. "His mother would have continued to hide her son's illness, fearing discrimination. Even if he gets medical help, the poverty would have made it impossible for him to get the proper diet to tolerate the medication.
"Compassion's health intervention has saved this young man's life and opened doors of opportunities for him to strive in life just like any other 13-year-old."
*Name was changed to protect the identity of the child.
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