Aspen Day 3: HIV/AIDS Department and Afaayo Kids Club

For the past 12 years, we have had the great privilege of partnering with Aspen. Each year, staff members from Aspen offices across the globe visit Adara’s projects on the ground to see firsthand the impact of this partnership. This year, we had the pleasure of hosting seven Aspen staff members at Kiwoko Hospital. As always, they left inspired by the incredible experience and invigorated by the knowledge that so much of this work has been made possible by Aspen’s support. They have been kind enough to share some of their stories and reflections with us.

By Carolyn Leder

Greetings from Kiwoko! What a challenge to capture the waves of experiences and emotions we had today! One key takeaway I had was from Sunrise to Sunset…Keep Moving!! Let’s begin…

Movement: Today started with a 6am jog with a group of five – Peter, Silvia, myself, Tadeo and Godfrey. The latter two volunteered to show us a portion of the Kiwoko Chase course. Tadeo is the one male NICU occupational therapist in all of Uganda and East Africa. He helps those babies move their bodies as they develop in the NICU. Godfrey started life as an orphan and made his way to Kiwoko as a NICU nurse. He is also this year’s Chair of the 3-day games ending with the Kiwoko Chase!!

It was pitch black and we ran with torches through the red soil roads of Kiwoko as the sun slowly rose in the east. We passed a hand water pump that provides water for 5,000 homes in the surrounding villages. Ugandans from those homes walked, ran, and biked while carrying large yellow containers on their way to that pump. With no running water and little to no electricity, Kiwoko folks spend a good portion of the day obtaining basic human needs, in this case, water. It’s a task that is often delegated to small children and the water still needs to be boiled before drinking.

Spiritual: Next, I joined Bryna, Ana and the Adara team at the Children’s Ministry Chapel for the daily morning prayer. Besides the amazing singing of the children, Pam, an Adara fundraising rep from Bermuda, was on deck to share thoughts about how she has seen God’s work in the Kiwoko Community. Her inspiring speech had hands clapping and a lot of “Amens!”

Health: Clinical Programmes Manager, Dr. James, organises daily doctors’ meetings that sees the night and day doctors join forces to discuss the night’s activities at Kiwoko Hospital. We listened to them report that children had swallowed items (a coin, a bead) and there was a delivery of twins (1 of the 2 decided it wanted to stay put, making for a complicated but ultimately successful surgery). A fun quiz designed by medical students followed and included “what is the gestation length of a baby pig?” The answer came in 3s – 3 months, 3 days, and 3 hours! Who knew?! A doctor on my team did because he owns multiple pigs!

Nature: Medical Director Dr. Peter (who has been with the hospital for many years) is ceremoniously planting trees in the green space between the male and female wards – bringing the African bush to Kiwoko Hospital! These trees will provide shade and respite for patients’ relatives for years to come. We all took part in a tree ceremony on behalf of Aspen. To me, the roots of the tree are symbolic of the roots Aspen and Adara started to plant by partnering with Kiwoko Hospital over 10+ and 20+ years ago.

Advocacy: Coming from the western world, I had a naïve belief that HIV and AIDS were no longer a large issue. What I learned from the Head of the HIV/AIDS Programme William Kiwanuka, the children of the Afaayo Club, and three adults living with HIV changed that. The programme touches every part of the hospital. Each patient, from moms and babies, to the male and female wards, are checked for HIV. And as the education in schools around this topic dwindles, William anticipates an uptick in patients transmitting and transacting HIV. Particularly in the under age 15 population (which is 50% of the population). This is a programme where Aspen and Adara on over 10 years ago and needs to support.

For example, the partnership supports The Afaayo Club which is a group of 70 kids from 6 to 17 who have HIV or AIDS and receive care, medication and consultation. They meet once per quarter as a group to create a safe place without stigma to share, play, hug, and have fun! We were lucky enough to be a part of that today and oh what a lively time we had!! Peter’s polaroid camera stole the show as he, then Ana, became the pied piper – each child wanted his or her own photo as a souvenir (most wanted multiples) and were not too shy as they followed them around!! It is a rare occurrence for the children of Kiwoko to have photographs of themselves printed for family and friends to see.

Afterwards, we listened as some shared their stories of living with HIV. Of particular significance was the story of a 23-year-old woman living a healthy life today with the help of Kiwoko Hospital. She continues to fight the hopefully not ever-present stigma of HIV in Uganda by helping others understand the disease.

Celebration: Lastly, the Kiwoko Chase committee invited us as honoured guests to greet the two competing teams in the men’s football/soccer finals. After shaking the players’ hands, in the Ugandan handshake, we watched as the game came down to the wire with a 1-1 tie leading to multiple penalty kicks!! It felt like the entire Kiwoko community was closing in on the pitch (some closer than others, Jorge/Messi) before the sun set in Kiwoko!

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