Today we have completed our third day in Kawempe, a slum on the north side of Kampala. On Monday and Tuesday, we primarily did health screenings for the students that are sponsored through Africa Renewal Ministries (ARM). On Tuesday, most all of those kids were in Secondary School (ages 12-17). They could speak enough English for me to be able to see them without a translator. On the Secondary School students, the school wanted an HIV test, as part of their health screening. Jake, Jared, Jayne and Jessica performed HIV tests on about 75 kids without any help.
Thankfully, all of them were negative. I was surprised by this at first, but then I started thinking a little more about it. These early teenagers are really too old to have acquired HIV at birth, and still be alive. At the same time, most of them are not old enough to participate (in theory) in “risky behaviors” for HIV.
As part of the screening for all of the students that we interviewed and examined, I asked them if they slept under a mosquito net. Right around 50% of the kids do not have one available to them. This did not feel “right” to me, so my mind started doing the math. If mosquito nets cost about $3 each and there are 125 kids that need them, it should be a simple, $375 solution. Surely Due Unto Others could come up with that money to help these kids protect themselves against malaria. I started asking more questions of the kids that did not have malaria nets. For most of them, there was a mosquito net in their house, but it was used by their mother/parents. To quote the great American philosopher Dr Walker (my residency attending), this made me “Madder than an outhouse wasp”! I don’t have a lot of experience with these insects, (I am getting more acquainted with outhouses) but he always told me that those wasps were never very happy. Anyway, I could not imagine myself using a mosquito net and letting my kids sleep unprotected. It would be like all of us starving to death and me taking the last piece of bread. As I smoldered over this, I started to think about how this might be….logical? First of all, most of their homes probably only have one bed in them. The parent(s), and possibly a young infant, normally occupy that bed. The other children sleep on the floor, on chairs, or where ever they can find to sleep. This makes the hanging and function of a mosquito net challenging. Secondly, if your family only has one mosquito net, it might be smart to keep the caretaker healthy. They can take the kids to the doctor (again in theory), but if the caretaker gets sick, like Paul in Kachungwa, the kids could all end up orphaned. This seemed almost like the oxygen masks on an airplane. Adults are supposed to secure theirs first, before helping children. This seems illogical at first, but then starts to make more sense. Additional problems with just spending $375 for more mosquito nets, is the fact that the nets tend to be sold, or used for other purposes. If your family has no money, and your kids are hungry, would you sell your new mosquito net or hang it? If you could use it for fishing, to supply food for your family, would you hang it? Now I am not saying that we should not give these kids mosquito nets, I am just saying that it is a little complicated.
On Wednesday, we completed our screenings by seeing the Early Childhood Program kids and many primary school kids. We saw 188 today to make a total of 360 over 3 days. It was a “fast paced” day, to say the least. I met a girl today named Irene. She is now 10 years old. I saw her today for chronic pain in her R arm. She has a significant burn on the R side of her face, on the right side of her chest and all of the way down her right arm. She actually has no fingers remaining on her R hand. I asked her how this happened.
She told me that her stepmother burned her intentionally when she was one year old. I asked further how this happened, and she told me that her stepmother held her over a kerosene cooker in attempts to kill her. It really turned my stomach. I just don’t understand how someone could do this. I asked her if I could take her picture and ask my friends to pray for her. So please help me hold up my end of the bargain by praying for Irene. Pray for her pain to be controlled, for her heart to heal towards the lady that did this, and for her to grow in her relationship with Christ.
Jayne made friends with a different young girl named Irene. She gave her one of the dolls that her friends made before we came. Irene was delighted with her new toy and was grinning from ear to ear. Jayne has 3 more dolls to give away and is looking for other good candidates.
It has been a great week so far. What an adventure this has been!