On a few occasions, I have discussed a family that I work with in my NGO's home-based care program. The family recently lost a daughter to AIDS because she waited too long to test. She left behind her mother (who remains one of the sickest people I have ever seen in real life), her daughter, her sister and newborn baby, and four small siblings. Her sister, while in the hospital giving birth to her baby, discovered she is also HIV+. She has gotten very sick since delivery and now is inflicted with TB as well. Her baby remains in the hospital but mom has returned to the house to live out her days with her family.
This family, all seven of them, live in a one-room shanty house. There is no water on the property and no toilet/latrine. They defecate into a bucket and bring it to a neighbor's house to dispose of in their latrine. The daughter, who is both HIV+ and suffering from TB, is too sick to do even this much. Pampers (diapers we hand out to those in need) are almost impossible to come by these days, as there has been a shortage around the country. My NGO is trying to make a plan to help this struggling family if, for no other reason, than to keep the four small children and the newborns safe from infection. (Besides HIV, we are worried about them sleeping on cold concrete floors this winter and also being piled into the one-room house with someone who has TB. We are also trying to make plans for the future, as these children may be orphaned soon, losing their grandmother and both of their mothers.)
In the past, my NGO has managed to build homes for families like this one. The cost to build suitable living place? About $5,000 (with donations of labor by the community). It is amazing how much can be done for so little money here. This would be our ultimate goal to help this family (and we have found an abandoned structure that we could build from). We have started making contacts with people to try and come up with a solution and a way to make this a reality. But this situation is dire and we need to do something sooner, so we are starting with building a pit latrine on the property.
Imagine for a minute that this was your family or someone you know. Picture these children huddling together this winter and caring for their sick family. It is heartbreaking. This is a reality here for a number of the patients we work with. And yet they keep smiling, welcoming every little thing we do for them - be it come to sweep their house or bring them a hot meal - so graciously. It puts things into perspective, doesn't it? I know that it reminds me every day that I am fortunate.