After graduating high school, my friend Melissa left for almost a year to South Africa, where she visited children and families, helped in hospitals, set up activities, distributed Adopt-A-Bears, and so much more. I knew she was blogging her experiences, so I asked her if she had any stories of encounters with AIDS that I could share on this blog. It really makes what we are learning in the classroom come alive.
"I met ThuThukani at our small camp for orphans and other vulnerable children from Burlington- a slum community in South Africa. Whenever I saw ThuThukani, he seemed to have just one look on his face; a look that said things like, “I don’t want to be here,” or “I hate my life.” He would often sit alone, silent, never uttering a word to anyone. Despite the calming efforts of teachers, other children, or my fellow teammates, ThuThukani was angry and aggressive. If the other children were coloring, he would refuse to color until people stopped asking him to. Then, as soon as the adult left him to himself, he would slowly reach for a crayon and begin softly scribbling onto a sheet of paper. He was quiet. He was defiant. But he was constant. Anyone could tell just by looking at him that he had his own way of doing things. But what anyone observing him could not tell just by looking was that ThuThukani was dying of stage four AIDS.
In Africa, no one is too shy to term this “full-blown.” His immune system was next to nothing, and he was only twelve years old. Suddenly, all in the split second of hearing these words, ThuThukani made complete sense to me. I found myself understanding his blank stares into space while trying to look him straight in the eye and rebuke his behavior. I understood his refusal to do as he was told. Because he just didn’t see the point. At a young age, ThuThukani had to come to terms with the fact that his life would be short. A virus which was given to him during childbirth would bring the end to his life, almost before it had even begun. In his silence, defiance, and in that little face of his, he had to understand all of this. And so, I learned to understand ThuThukani.
I could not wrap my mind around AIDS ripping apart Africa. But as much as I could not understand, what I could understand was this boy. I could see his pain and frustration. Putting a face to those grim four letters, AIDS, made it all too personal to me."