By: Willow Welter and Caroline A. Mwinemwesigwa   |   Posted: November 29, 2022

When church workers first met Goretti in an impoverished Ugandan neighborhood, the desperate mother was feeding tea to her newborn. Find out why and see how the church stepped in to help the family survive and thrive.

Tea Instead of Milk: How HIV and AIDS Endanger Infants

When church workers first met Goretti in an impoverished Ugandan neighborhood, the desperate mother was feeding tea to her newborn. Find out why and see how the church stepped in to help the family survive and thrive.

Written by Willow Welter and Caroline A. Mwinemwesigwa
Photography by Chuck Bigger
Goretti and her children

When workers from a local church in Uganda first met Goretti, the desperate mother was feeding tea to her newborn daughter, Mariam.

The church workers, who were visiting the impoverished neighborhood to invite families to register children in Compassion’s program, asked Goretti why she wasn’t giving the infant breastmilk or formula. Goretti told them she had been diagnosed with HIV and was too afraid to pass it along to her baby through breastfeeding. Since she lived in extreme poverty and couldn’t afford baby formula, tea seemed like the best option.

Goretti’s fear of passing along HIV through breastfeeding is common among mothers living with the virus, says Alan Patrick Ndaula, a medical doctor in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. “The best option would be not to breastfeed, but [many mothers] can’t afford formula,” says Dr. Ndaula. That leads to babies suffering malnutrition, which is more life-threatening than treated HIV.

Seeing that Mariam was malnourished, the church workers immediately registered her and Goretti in the Compassion Survival initiative. Babies and their caregivers in the program receive health care, spiritual guidance, food, education and other crucial support thanks to Compassion donors. Program staff delivered groceries to Goretti, including formula and supplements to boost the baby’s health.

Goretti visits her doctor for a checkup
Goretti visits her doctor for a checkup.

They also arranged for Goretti and Mariam to visit a doctor and have the child tested for HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS. Thankfully, Mariam was free of the virus.

8 Years Later

Mariam is healthy and full of energy today, which is obvious as she scrambles up a tall pile of charcoal bags.

“This is the day, this is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made!” Mariam belts out from the top of her little mountain. A group of children gathers around her. A couple of them start to sing along — they learned this one at the Compassion center too!

Mariam helps her mom prepare potatoes to cook in their kitchen
Mariam helps her mom prepare potatoes to cook in their kitchen.

Sponsored children’s distinctly hopeful spirits illuminate this violence-ridden neighborhood, where Mariam, her three siblings and their mother live in a rented clay home. Goretti’s husband recently moved in with another woman down the street. Adding further stress, Goretti worries that her home will be bulldozed.

“We’ve already received notices from the government that they want to destroy this whole place, remove all these ramshackle houses,” Goretti says. “They could get rid of us at any time.”

Despite these ongoing hardships of poverty, the family’s situation has improved immensely. To ensure that the mother could better meet her family’s future needs, Compassion trained Goretti in income generation. After learning more about running a small business, she started selling charcoal. Her business began to pick up. On typical days, Goretti makes about $3 to $4. This new business has enabled Goretti raise healthy children!


In 2021

  • 38.4 million people were living with HIV.
  • 1.5 million people became newly infected with HIV.
  • 650,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.
  • 28.7 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy.
  • 54% of all people living with HIV were women and girls.


Goretti fills a bucket with charcoal for a customer
Goretti fills a bucket with charcoal for a customer.

Having thrived as a baby with the help of the Compassion Survival initiative, Mariam is now in the Child Sponsorship Program. Her sponsor writes to her often and even flew to Uganda from South Korea to visit her. “He’s the best,” gushes Mariam, who speaks English in addition to her mother’s language, Luganda. “Even if I’m sick, he can write a letter to me, say, ‘May God bless you, Mariam.’ … Even if I’m sad I can get a smile. When he writes a letter, I can be happy.”

It's hard to imagine what would have happened to Mariam had the caring people from her local church not reached out that day eight years ago.

The Church’s Challenge

Goretti continues to take her antiretroviral pills daily, which are paid for through a government social program. She’s one of the 1.2 million Ugandans with HIV who live relatively normal lives because of the treatment. But there are 1.5 million Ugandans total with HIV or AIDS, according to UNAIDS. Some people don’t know they have the virus. Others might not realize there is a lifesaving treatment. Some might not realize the government program pays for the treatment.

Goretti shows her daily treatment regimen
Goretti shows her daily treatment regimen.

So in countries with high rates of HIV and AIDS, Compassion’s local church partners have the challenge of educating their communities about prevention and treatment options. It’s a daunting challenge, but things are changing. AIDS continues to kill, with 650,000 people worldwide dying from AIDS-related illnesses in 2021. But global AIDS-related deaths have reduced by 68% since the peak in 2004, says UNAIDS.

Watching Mariam sing so joyfully and loudly into her impoverished neighborhood is evidence that there is so much hope for her generation — hope stoked by those carrying out Jesus’ call to love their neighbors in need. Across the world, many Compassion church partners are serving their neighbors with HIV or AIDS, making it possible for more children in Mariam’s situation to grow and thrive.

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