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HEAL Africa provides holistic care for the people of Democratic Republic of Congo
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Jake a 10 year old boy with AIDS

23 November 09


A parcel wrapped up in layers of material sits on a hospital bed. As I approached, it became clear this parcel was actually the tiny body of a child. The little and frail body lays there, his face being the only visible part as some type of used cloth covers his whole body and head. After about a minute or so, his eyelids start moving, and with some difficulties he eventually opens his eyes. A pair of eyes far too big for his face and body looks at us, and progressively lights up slightly as recognition settles in. Meet Jake, a 10 years old Congolese boy.

Our first encounter with Jake was actually yesterday, at church. As Louise (an Australian nurse with us for another 2 weeks) and I sat in one of the back rows, a little boy makes his way in slowly. As Louise waved him closer, he approaches us and sat on her knees for the whole duration of the church service. A simple glimpse at him would leave his image in one’s head and mind for a very long time. The child is very severely undernourished, totally skinny; he appears very quiet and calm. After the service, I tried to get some information from him with my little Swahili vocabulary. I understand his mother was then in hospital and he did not have any brothers or sisters. Louise and I grabbed some of the food freely distributed to any adult or child after church, and we gave it to the boy. In a small voice he told me he wanted some water, but the only drink available is some type of very weak and sweet tea. Jake takes a small sip at the drink and pulls a funny face and explains in Swahili that it was “moto”, hot as fire. We then sat him down, waiting with him until his drink would cool off enough.

As we left church, we both agreed we would find him and his mum somehow the following day in the hospital to find out more about their situation. Monday morning, after a few enquiries, we are eventually brought to a 6 beds room and we stop before this little wrapped up parcel. As Jake opens up his eyes, his mother helps him to sit on his bed. As she removes the cotton clothes around him, for the first time I can see his chest and arms; a collection of bones covered by a layer of dehydrated skin. My throat and heart suddenly seem to tighten. I had only seen people in this state of (un-)health on TV or in magazines before, never before had I actually spoken or touched what seem to be living skeleton. The scene is somehow surreal, despite his weakness Jake manages to smile (specially as Louise gives him a little soft toy koala, and as I give his mother a bag of nutritious porridge), he would answer questions and just sit and wait as his mum rubs a small amount of petroleum jelly on his face and head. A simple and normal caring and loving gesture in a very abnormal situation. Through a passing nurse who became my interpreter, I manage to ask the mum a few questions and she explained he had been sick for 2 months, had been staying in hospital for about 10 days and is now recovering, the dad is away fighting in the army, he is her only child, Jake is 10 and was in second year of primary school. At some point the nurse declares “they are going back home tomorrow”. I could not help and ask why? “Because he was sick but he is healed now, if he gets sick again, they will come back again”.

Healed? God is clearly the only help this sick child can get. His situation seems desperate, he is literally dying. I find it amazing that his mum speaks of the situation with a matter-of-fact voice, despite her hurt and pain, she is brave, caring and realistic. I then asked if I could possibly go and see them in their home, I am not quite ready to let Jake go in my past memories yet, and I am relieved and thrilled that the mum agrees gratefully.

Outside of the room, away from the other patients and their visitors, the nurse then explains “there is nothing we can do for him, so we just send him home. They will come back if his situation deteriorates”.

Jake is just another child with AIDS. His only crime is to have been born and grown up in a country where many, far too many, children and adults are still exposed to HIV and AIDS. In his deep big eyes one can read some lethargy and tiredness, yet Jake has faith. Yesterday morning at church, when everybody was standing up singing a prayer-song, Jake kept his eyes closed, he looked so exhausted. Yet, his lips were moving as he joined in the worship. In a situation when all seems over, when there seem to be no exit door, nowhere to turn, faith is what makes one’s heart beat keep going on. I cannot wait to go and visit Jake again...

Jake's story, updated Nov 28

Jake’s mother didn’t know about the Children’s AIDS Program (CAP) Clinic before Jake landed in the hospital.  But now she does, and he will be coming in for extra nutrition and regular checkups by Dr. Vindu and team.   He and his mother will have people to encourage them along this journey, and an expert-patient, who has gone through the same issues.  Your donations to HEAL Africa help keep this service and others like it going.