We have a very special, beautiful little girl and boy named Mai and Toi who we take a keen interest in. So far they are the only family that gets a special private screening once a month as well as return transfer all expenses paid excursions into town and the local swimming pool for lessons. I have wanted to tell this story for a long time and I guess now is the opportunity to discuss something a little more serious about our work here.
Mai is approximately 10 years old, give or take a year or 2 and lives with her Grandmother and older brother Toi in a very remote and poor community. Unfortunately a few years ago, Mai’s mum and dad and Toi’s mum, passed away after a long battle with AIDS. While Toi is blessed to not have the disease, Mai is HIV positive and has medication every day to stop the progress into full blown AIDS. Sounds like a depressing subject right? Far from it…
I challenge anyone who meets this family not to fall in love with them at the first meeting. Toi is a shy but highly intelligent boy. He is very apt at sports and surprised us not just with his English skills (keep in mind his education opportunities are very limited) but on one visit, he proceeded to read aloud from a Japanese text book we were carrying. He later told us that he paid 500 reil (12 cents) per class for 5 classes from a nearby village. I have been studying longer than that and he puts me to shame.
Mai will melt your heart on the first meeting. She is extremely affectionate and has such a beautiful big smile that it is impossible not to pick her up and hug her constantly, which of course she loves. She and her brother are very close. Toi is the only one of the three who has a watch. It has an alarm for 10 minutes to 6 at both am and pm, when Mai requires her medication. It is all prepared and laid out and everyone counts down to 6 o’clock when the medication is taken exactly to the second.
The family survives on approximately $40 to $50 per month. The grandmother makes grass mat roofing which she sells for 12 cents each to support the family. It is hard work and she has to walk into the Forrest to collect the materials followed by hours of weaving the grass into mats. She is 63 years old and in a country full of trash, she keeps the cleanest house around. They don’t have power or a mobile phone. They have access to rain water collection for the wet season but need to walk quite a distance to the nearest well in the dry season. What they do have is an amazing close supportive family who never complain and treat each other with the utmost respect. The real lesson here is not to feel pity for them but perhaps to take a moment and look at our own lives and reevaluate what’s really important.
On our last visit to whisk the kids away for the day, we arrived to find Grandmother laying down with a drip in her arm. We ask what is wrong but without a translator things get difficult. We eventually find out that she has been sick now for 2 weeks and shows no sign of improvement. Having no money to see the doctor and not being able to work means that they are surviving with help from the community to provide food for them. We make the decision to bring her the 30 minutes into town to see a doctor. After convincing her she needed to stay in over night, we eventually get her blood tests and the right medication to get her on the mend.
It really drives it home that by just entering these communities we have the power to make a real difference. The surprising part perhaps is the difference that it makes to us.
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