Pierre and Joel’s parents were HIV positive, and began receiving care at the Alafia Clinic in 2003. The two boys were tested to see if they were infected through mother to child transmission. Pierre, the older of the two, tested negative, but Joel, at the age of around 3, tested positive for HIV. He began to receive care at the clinic and was started on medications to strengthen his immune system. Within a few years Pierre and Joel’s mother and father both passed away from AIDS related illnesses.
The boys were placed with their grandmother, who continued to bring Joel to the clinic for treatment. During this time, he was also treated for Pulmonary Tuberculosis and numerous other health issues. He did not begin to walk until around the age of four. Staff at the clinic did exercises with Joel and showed his grandmother how to continue the exercises at home to strengthen his legs.
Alafia’s staff were very concerned for the boy’s welfare. They were malnourished and unkempt and were not receiving the care and support that they needed for healthy development. Pierre and Joel were left to roam freely about the village with little or no supervision. They often arrived at Boniface’s home, (our clinic supervisor), early in the morning and stayed there until nightfall to receive meals and companionship.
One night, when the boys returned home from Boniface’s, they found the house empty and their grandmother was not to be found. It soon became apparent that she had moved away quietly without telling them.
The Alafia team tried to find someone to care for the boys in their extended family. The response was that they were not their responsibility. The local pastor, from the boy’s ethnic group, was even quoted as saying that if the boys died, it was not his concern. The boys were blamed by some, for their parent’s death, saying that they must have done something wrong and were being punished.
Pierre is a quiet and thoughtful boy, and he could see that he and his younger brother needed to find a place to stay. The following morning, he packed their few belongings and arrived at Pastor Sidi Jean’s home (Alafia’s pastor/evangelist). Pierre knew that they would be welcomed despite being from a different ethnic group. Birth certificates were acquired for the boys, guessing their ages, and choosing a birth date, so that they could be enrolled in school. When Pastor Sidi Jean passed away, Pierre again packed their belongings and arrived at Boniface’s door, knowing they would be cared for.
Unexpectedly, the boy’s relatives arrived on the scene and showed an interest in them, saying they wanted to take them home that same day. Boniface insisted that they be given time to prepare and adjust to another move. He assured the boys that his door was always open.
Pierre and Joel were put to work in their uncle’s fields, and it was evident that they were being mistreated and abused. The uncle caring for them was a known alcoholic and had a tendency towards physical aggression. Thankfully, after several months of harsh treatment and neglect, the boys were sent away by their uncle. They arrived early the next morning at one of our team member’s doors. This was a situation with no easy answers.
Boniface had noticed that Joel often spent time at one of the local Pastor’s homes, joining them at mealtime. The Pastor was kind, compassionate, and well respected in the community. He was also from the same ethnic group as the boys, and he and his wife had not been able to have children of their own. He agreed to care for Joel, and Joel was loved and nurtured in their home. They later adopted a baby boy and Joel proved to be a devoted and doting big brother. He was often seen, riding on the back of the pastor’s motorcycle, happily waving and staying close to his “dad”.
After becoming used to taking care of himself and finding his own way, Joel struggled with behavioral issues, compulsive stealing, and feeling settled in one place. It has taken time to build trust and security.
Pierre continues to live with Boniface and is loved like a son. He is now in secondary school and is a faithful and hardworking student. His dream is to become a forest ranger. Both boys have put their faith in Christ.
Pierre and Joel have been frequent guests in my home over the years. Saturday was a day they often came to visit and play Uno or Connect Four. They loved helping in the kitchen, especially if cookies were on the menu. They were enthusiastic helpers with our chicken and rabbit project, cleaning their cages and feeding them to earn some spending money.
A few months ago Joel came to the clinic with a painful lesion on his face. These lesions multiplied and he was diagnosed as having Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a type of cancer that people living with HIV are more susceptible to. He never complained but was obviously in discomfort. He passed away in his home.
In the last few years, Joel made a remarkable improvement in his behaviour and had even stopped stealing. He made a new group of friends and tried hard at school although bookwork was difficult for him. He loved the Lord and was an enthusiastic presence at our children’s activities. As he outgrew the children’s games, he became my faithful helper. We were thrilled with his improvement and praised him often.
Joel was a courageous teenager who lived a difficult life with a positive attitude. He was the life of the party and loved to get into mischief and make people laugh. He will be very missed and never forgotten at the Alafia Clinic.