Any child who loses their parents suffers unimaginable grief and heartache. But for one population of children growing up in China, the reason they lost their parents adds a whole other level of loss, heartache and isolation — even within their own families. They are not just orphans. They are AIDS orphans.
It was as if time stood still.
Everything sat undisturbed — preserved in the moment their son left his childhood home for a new life in the city.
A couple of bikes stood leaning in the doorway, covered in dust. A calendar remained open to November 2016, the month their son moved to his group home. Becca noticed a hat with a flower hanging on the wall.
“I wondered if this was his grandmother’s hat,” says Becca, now mom to the boy who once lived in this cold concrete block home. Becca wondered if his grandmother wore this hat while working in the fields that surrounded their family compound.
Here and there, Becca also caught glimpses of the child her now teenage son once was. The child who left Spiderman stickers and hand-drawn pictures taped to the walls, rollerblades and tiny shoes by the door. The child who created an elaborate chalk drawing of a guitar on the window, and lines on the wall to prove he was growing taller.
Most of the children here don’t know they are HIV+. It’s too risky.
Their teachers don’t know. Their neighbors definitely don’t know because if they did, they would have to move again. They’ve moved eight times in ten years, all 28 children. If their teachers knew, they would be isolated and discriminated against or even kicked out of their pricey private school — a school they attend because they don’t have to inform the principal of their disease.
Most of these children don’t even know about the disease in their blood, the disease that killed many of their parents, robbed them of their life in their villages and that was likely passed to them at birth.
They just know that they have strict rules to follow.
Absolutely no fighting. No rough housing. If they get a cut or a scratch, they have their own first aid kit. And they have Mr. Huang.
“The kids are happy now,” Mr. Huang says, his face worn and tired, his spiky, graying hair hinting at his age.
When children pass through the living room of the apartment, they stop to grab his hands or talk to him and his eyes soften as he greets them lovingly.
“They are too young,” Mr. Huang says. “They don’t understand their fate. But as they get older, they will learn. The discrimination will start. They will always have to keep their secret.”
As a sponsor, you have the unique opportunity to love and support a child living in a tough situation.
Maybe your sponsored child is waiting in a care facility for a permanent, loving family. Maybe your sponsored child is in school and working to end the cycle of poverty for his or her family. Or maybe your sponsored child has special needs that require specialized resources and therapies — needs like cerebral palsy, developmental delays, cleft lip and palate… or HIV.
Among the most vulnerable groups of children Holt sponsors support are in fact children in China who have HIV.
Holt adoptive mom Anne Silas* has learned that even in the U.S., the stigma against HIV can be strong. And for that reason, Ann and her family are careful when sharing about their children’s condition. However, while it is not something they share openly, it is not a secret. It is not a reason for shame or missed opportunity. Her children know that they can live lives full of love, acceptance and opportunity — while having HIV.
But in China and in other parts of the world, children with HIV must live in secret.
The stigma against HIV is so strong that if their communities find out about their condition, they will likely be ostracized — not allowed in public schools, kicked out of their homes, separated from their families and robbed of the opportunity to thrive and live normally within society.
But this year through the Molly Holt Fund, you can tell children living with HIV that they shouldn’t have to live in secret — that they deserve to be known. That they deserve the same opportunities as any other child!
Your gift to the Molly Holt Fund will help children who are living in Holt-supported HIV group homes — safe places where they are loved and cared for while many wait for a permanent, loving adoptive family — as well as other children with special needs around the world who are in need of medical care, therapies and the opportunity to thrive.
Thank you for your heart and compassion for children with HIV and other special needs. Your gift gives them the resources, opportunity and freedom they need to stop living in secret and rise above stigma.
* Name changed to keep the confidentiality of Anne and her children