Since 2007, Adara has had the great privilege of partnering with Aspen. It has been an amazing partnership, which has shown us all the exponential power of linking the business sector with those in need in the developing world. Together, we have been able to provide the hospital with a new and expanded neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and a brand new maternity ward. In addition, Aspen helps people living with HIV to stay happy and healthy through various programmes. They also support the preventative arm of the hospital, through community outreach.
Each year, Aspen staff members from offices across the globe come to Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda to see firsthand the impact of this partnership. Every year, they leave inspired. For the next week, the ambassadors will be writing a blog each day about their experience at Kiwoko. Here is day four!
By Diana Jin
We started today off at full speed and had an array of activities that kept us cheerful, sorrowful and emotional throughout the day. We spent the morning at the HIV/AIDS Clinic at Kiwoko for an educational session on HIV. We learned facts about the illness, the history of it in the community and the devastating effects it has had on individuals/families. Amazingly, the department has grown significantly over time, reaching far more patients than anticipated when the clinic was set up in 2005. The program takes an all-encompassing approach to provide testing, medication, nutritional support and education on prevention and care. The department still faces challenges including the need for more funding to care for the growing population, but it was wonderful to see how our support has made a substantial difference in allowing the clinic to save thousands of lives over the years. Doctors, staff and surviving patients all expressed the great need for support, but an even greater appreciation for our involvement, with Aspen being a consistent supporter for the past 8 years.
Most impactful was the time we spent throughout the day with living patients. We were enthusiastically greeted by the Afaayo Club children who visit the hospital once a month. Here, these affected children are able to receive support and care to manage the illness and escape the stigma often associated with the disease in the community. We spent a few hours playing games with the children and the Aspen team was left completely exhausted! But the warmth and excitement of the children was something none of us have ever experienced – there was constantly a child holding our hands, giving us huge smiles and opening their hearts to ours.
Throughout the day, we heard several testimonies of the patients’ life experiences with the disease. As we listened, we collectively felt shock and compassion for their misfortune, but also great admiration for their strength and positive approach to life.
I was particularly touched by a heart-to-heart I had with a boy named Francis during snack time. He approached me and shyly offered his snack and drink before he sat down (to which I thanked him but insisted he enjoy). He opened up to me very quickly and this is what I learned about Francis: he is 15 years old, his father passed away and his mother abandoned him, so he now lives alone. He goes to school but also makes a living for himself as a farmer. He says most days he is happy to play with the other children in the club, but these days he is tired and not feeling well. He stated all this in such a casual matter-of-fact form while I tried to keep a straight yet compassionate expression on my face. Secretly, I was dying inside of disbelief and heartbreak. We went back to play more games and at the end, he said, “do you know Diana, hard work pays!” And proceeded to tell me that with hard work, anything can be easy, including farming – though when I suggested I try it, he laughed and said I could not be good at digging, and laughed even harder when I flexed by bicep in an attempt to prove him otherwise. He told me he hopes to visit New York and if God is willing, he would make it there one day. We said goodbye and he took with him a polaroid photo of our smiling faces together, but I will take back an unforgettable memory, with encouragement that because of the care of Kiwoko Hospital, Adara and Aspen, this soulful young gentleman has a real chance to have a future.