'HIV Mother' Kigali, Rwanda

Melinda Kerr

Melbourne, Australia

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Let me take you on a journey.
It’s 2007 in the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali.
April; The month of mourning for the atrocities of the genocide 13 years ago.
A wonderful theory.
A hopelessly inadequate practice.
Mourn for only one month, the butchering of your family?
Oh well, at least the government is trying we reason.
I’m here with 15 others on an aid trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda in central africa.
Both tragic messes.
The trash can of the world.
Where other countries occasionally rifle through the litter to find gems – only to leave the remnants crushed up in their wake.
Messy business pillaging.
What do you do with all those annoying people?
This day we are with the Barakaboa Foundation.
A group of hopelessly under resourced Rwandans set up to deal with the ‘parent-less’ generation left dazed by the atrocities of the past.
On their ‘books’ kids as young as 10 raising kids younger than that.
There are no orphanages in Rwanda.
The government favours family upbringings.
A wonderful theory.
A hopelessly inadequate practice.
Who do you run to when your stand in Mum or Dad are 8, 10, 12?
Oh well, at least the government is trying we reason.
But how does that work you ask suspiciously?
If the genocide was 13 years ago, how are stand-in parents so young?
AIDS.
How handy Barakaboa was already in place.
They just swivel from one barbaric destroyer to the next.
We are to visit one of the families they support.
It’s hot, dusty and despairingly grimy.
We break into two groups.
I travel with my sister, a full time aid worker and her husband a doctor.
To a family in the city.
We feel uncomfortable.
We feel obtrusive.
We feel confronted.
We feel hopeless.
And we feel western.
We are all these things.
It is my task to record the event photographically.
My lens is worth more than they will make in a lifetime.
My feeble request for freedom to portray accepted with grace laced with exhaustion.
Our host is the woman in this shot.
I don’t even know her name.
It is dark and I can barely focus.
There is no electricity.
Torn material hangs inefficiently from the ceiling across glassless windows.
There is no breeze.
The air is stifling.
The atmosphere shameful.
The outlook hopeless.
In her one room home live herself, her two children and three adopted orphans.
Such is the way in Rwanda.
She has AIDS.
Her husband passed it on before he died.
Her 16 year old daughter has AIDS.
Most likely from rape.
Her fatherless child?
Who knows.
There are 6 people living here.
It’s tiny.
It’s tiny.
It’s tiny.
We ask how we can help.
Snap goes my shutter.
She needs medicine.
For all the stuff AIDS brings.
Colds, fever, nausea.
My brother-in-law writes a script.
We fumble around for some Rwandan money.
A wonderful theory.
A hopelessly inadequate practice.
She can’t afford the taxi to the pharmacy. The authorities supply AIDS medicine to those who’ll admit they have it. But not medicine for the ‘off-shoots’ of HIV. And the drug companies? Don’t even start me?
Oh well, at least the government is trying we reason.
Snap, another shot.
She has nothing on the walls except a crucifix.
She is a Christian.
She really is one.
Not just one for charity.
She asks us to hold her hand and pray for her.
She asks us to pray for her family.
She loves her family.
I look at my sister.
I look at my brother-in-law.
They stand up and hold her hands.
My brother-in-law bends down and checks the youngest’s eyes.
I love my family too.
We pray.
Then, snap, a family shot.
We leave.
With the promise we won’t tell the neighbors she has AIDS.
She is ashamed.
So are we.
Not of who we are or why we’ve come or what we’ve done.
We are ashamed and angry and affronted at the horrible, despicable and unacceptable inequality of gender and geography.
My sister and I share a glance in the silence on the way back to the mission hostel.
There but by the grace of God, that could have been us.

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All proceeds to charity.

Artwork Comments

  • Susan Grissom
  • Melinda Kerr
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  • Nicole Goggins
  • Robert Knapman
  • Judith Oppenheimer
  • studiofascino
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