|"Mana" Patricia Acquaviva and Belide at the SLM HIV Centre, September 2016|
Today is not a happy day for ALG. Our young Belide passed away.
At ALG every day is made of small setbacks and huge happiness.
There is a lot of happiness: every time a child transitions to the next grade, every time a girl does not abandon school because she became pregnant too early, every time a mum leaves her little child safe in a pre-school to go to work and earn a meagre salary for her family… every time this happens it is a happy time for ALG. Every time a sponsor gives us a word of encouragement and show us how happy they are for having a child of their “own”...it is a happy day for ALG.
Belide Jorge Ubisse was one among the almost 2´500 children ALG supports every year.
It is easy to get lost in numbers and names of so many little faces that show sadness and happiness at the same time, that are hungry but positive, who have with aching bodies from years of deprivation, but who have also bright eyes full of hope just like every child growing up. Resistant. Resilient. Little heroes.
But Belide was not just another face. He stayed in my memory as a child who, already an orphan, was also infected with HIV, along with his little sister Maria. He was with ALG since 2011, 11 years recently celebrated in a poor house and in poor health.
He entered our SLM HIV Day Care Centre almost 4 years ago when he was studying at the SLM school. He continued living in his poor house made of clay and zinc sheets with one single room, looked after by a caring, but also ill, aunt and by his older brother who drives local buses, and was constantly away working, but who loved Belide very much.
Every quarter, among the 30 children who also attended the Centre, he was always the one I looked first to check his grades. I was amazed by the child who, despite the hardship and struggle, managed to be one of the best students. I wanted to meet him in person, I watched as he wrote a letter to Filipa, his sponsor in ALG in London; I discovered his good writing skills and firm handwriting, a boy with a bright head and a future ahead of him. "Our Belide will be one of our university scholarship holders" we all said and believed proudly.
Last year he began skipping days at the Centre where he received adequate food and medical assistance... well into his teens, he already wanted to stay with the older kids in the school´s common playground. We built a football field at the Centre, thinking of fragile kids just like him less attracted by the Centre, and won him back again. They ran after a soccer ball and in turn received their medical care and a good meal. And then they went back to study, their only solution. “HIV is not going to win! Look at Belide!”
When they appear, ALG ‘s daily setbacks always seem huge. It is communications with the ground that come late, it is donors who disappear without donating, it is flat tires on dirt roads when ALG technicians are trying to reach a sick family... it is weeks just like this past one, preparing emails over emails to respect European GDPR privacy data… It is grown up problems.
But today, Friday the 18th May, Belide passed away. Over the past two months he was more absent, not feeling well, on and off the local and respected Carmelo hospital. The news that came from the hospital, so far way, seemed so close and touched us very deeply. We asked them to be more specific. We wanted to know if it was a tuberculosis crisis that affects so many other children at the HIV Day Care Centre, or another unknown illness. But does it really matter... What matters is that our future scholarship holder, a bright mind and loving brother to little Maria, Belide is no longer with us. What matters is that we can no longer look at Belide.
It matters the effort our donors make in helping us to build our projects, the hours of laborious work ALG Local Partners spend on the ground fighting against a relentless reality. It matters the years ALG has been trying to save vulnerable children. And it matters that we cannot give up, because HIV must not win. The lack of education and opportunity must not win. Poverty is not going to win.
Because day by day other children like Belide will be scholarship holders with the great help of ALG friends and sponsors.
Our setbacks no longer seem so small, nor the happiness so constant.
Today we lost Belide, and it is not a happy day for ALG.
mana Patricia Acquaviva, ALG Founding Trustee