When we arrived in Ukraine, I knew very little about HIV or AIDS. I didn’t really see a need to know too much because that disease was certainly not going to invade my little world.
And then a woman stood in front of our church congregation one morning and practically begged for people to help her help a couple of orphans who were HIV+. They had nothing and no one and spent many of their days in a local hospital. By themselves. I offered to go with her to see them but eventually she stopped visiting and my lack of language skills prevented me from going by myself.
But I didn’t forget these children. Nor the little ones that were being added to that room. Eventually, through the connections that my pediatrician husband had made in the medical realm, I was able to begin regularly visiting these children. I found someone to visit with me who better understood the language so that if the medical personnel asked me a question, I could answer it! By then the numbers of children had increased.
At one point, an orphanage was being updated and during the renovation time nearly 20 children began living on the second floor of the hospital. I fell in love with so many of them. They were all either HIV+ or were waiting confirmation of this diagnosis — all had mothers who were HIV+. These children didn’t need hospital care at this point, but just needed a place to live until the orphanage could take them back. I became more and more attached and we even considered adopting one sweet little boy, but the American law would have prohibited us bringing him back to the States with us. (We eventually learned that he was NOT HIV+, began the process to adopt, and the laws changed again — now we were too old. I am thankful that a Ukrainian family adopted him and I pray that I will one day see him again.)
One of the doctors invited me to begin visiting the children weekly at the orphanage. This I did (with another missionary friend) until the leadership of the orphanage changed and we were told to leave immediately. From time to time I am able to visit these dear ones at the orphanage, but only when I am with a couple who is adopting from there. Other than adopting couples, few get in and the children rarely get out.
Of course, I had to learn about this disease so that I could confidently be among the children. I must admit that I was a little hesitant when I first went. I knew that all was okay as long as body fluids weren’t exchanged. Hugs and kisses, cuddles and tickles…none of these behaviors would pass the disease on to me. Drying tears, changing diapers, wiping noses. Again, I was not at risk. (Unless any of these fluids were tainted with blood.) I usually wear gloves when changing diapers at the hospital simply for sanitation reasons.
I began to read books, attend forums, discover websites that gave me the information that I needed.
Now that America is open to these children, I have become an advocate for many of my young friends. Unfortunately some have already been placed in settings that prevent adoption. But many of my little charges are now in homes all over America!
Thank you to each and every family who has adopted, who has given of their time or money to help someone else adopt, who has given to our ministry to allow us to fund workers 6 days a week to be in the HIV orphans’ room at the hospital, who has prayed for this work.