Rock music is blaring on loud speakers throughout the AIDS orphanage compound ten miles outside Kenya’s bustling major city of Nairobi. Soon hundreds of teens will be arriving on rusting buses for a Sunday of mass, entertainment, and a talk on sex and AIDS by Dr. John from America. Here in the guarded property with its flowering bougainvilleas, are eight small cottages for 70 children and a few young teens, living with HIV/AIDS. Young children are helping to get younger ones ready and the house mothers make sure all are fed the daily nutritious porridge. Behind the dusty playground, just beyond the duck house and near the goat pen, is a secluded area where a mound of red dirt covers a new grave. Simple, bleached crosses tell of young souls with names and dates like “Benjamin, 1/1/99 ? 5/3/2000.” A little voice says to Dr. John, “This is my friend,” as she holds his hand tightly and tugs to go.
Only a very few children here grow into adolescence — most never survive their first five years. In some special cases, babies who are born HIV-positive and later revert to negative status are put up for adoption. Why this phenomenon occurs is not well understood but it is a rare scientific fact. Despite billions of dollars spent, scientists are still years away from finding a cure or producing a vaccine.
On this Sunday, A Dutch couple arrive to finalize the papers for taking a girl baby back to Amsterdam. There are tearful goodbyes from the staff and volunteer helpers, many who come from foreign countries. Agnes, a Kenyan with a masters in economics, helps prepare a communal lunch in the small kitchen. Jumping off their bus, the young men of Don Bosco Home for Street Boys are ready to sing ? as they do each Sunday. Some of the boys volunteer their free time to help Dr. John in his AIDS missionary work. Jack, a young and dedicated house father, and Denis, an eighteen year-old boy living with HIV, set up chairs under a colorful panoply for the assembling crowd. Denis’ twin brother died four years earlier and his younger sister died soon thereafter. His mother had unknowingly given them HIV/AIDS at birth. Denis eagerly joins Dr. John in his street outreach in and around Nairobi, talking with strangers about AIDS prevention. His white smile is HUGE.
Unfortunately, most of these young children die of AIDS, some over protracted lengths of time, others quickly after sudden illnesses. Then other HIV-positive babies, many abandoned by frightened mothers at local hospitals, are brought to the orphanage. Some reports suggest one out of four Kenyans are HIV positive — and don’t know it — because few are ever tested and you can’t see “HIV.” But at the orphanage, where every child is loved and cared for, AIDS is in your face and every young life is valued.