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Good Health and Happiness: One Girl Living With HIV in China Thanks Her Sponsor

The HIV virus in China carries intense stigma, and children who are orphaned due to the virus can feel very alone in the world. But at group homes supported by Holt sponsors and donors, children living with HIV find a loving home — and a family of their own making. Read one sponsored girl’s story.

Ming has no memory of her parents. They died when she was just a baby, leaving Ming and her sister orphaned. For the first several years of Ming’s life, she and her sister were raised by her grandfather. He did his best to care for them, but they lived in poverty in southern China. And Ming has a condition that makes it more challenging to meet her needs. She has HIV, which she contracted at birth from her mother.     

In China, HIV is not well understood, and carriers of the disease — even children — face intense stigma and prejudice.

Ming at a younger age in the traditional dress of the ethnic minority she belongs to in China.

Twenty-five years ago, HIV ravaged entire communities in China and spread rapidly through both rural and urban areas. Many people died. Today, it is much better controlled, and the government provides a free supply of the daily antiretroviral medication that people living with HIV need to survive. However, public awareness about how HIV is spread remains misunderstood.

Like Ming, many children with HIV have lost their parents to the disease. And while most have extended family, their relatives are often fearful of the disease and are unwilling to welcome them into their homes.

In other cases, their relatives can barely afford to care for their own children, much less meet the needs of an orphaned niece or nephew — or grandchild — with HIV.

Although he did his best, Ming’s grandfather struggled to afford food and other basic needs for his granddaughters. But when Ming was 5, her grandfather learned about a resource in the community for children like Ming — a special group home for children with HIV that’s supported by Holt sponsors and donors.

“In 2015, an NGO that focuses on HIV care reached out to her grandfather and told him that the children could drink milk every day in the group home,” our staff in China shares. “So, he then took her to that place.”

Just two years prior, in 2013, Holt sponsors and donors began supporting several of these group homes for children with HIV in China. Like all of the children at the group home, Ming was matched with a Holt sponsor who helps provide everything she needs — from food and medical care to school tuition.

Ming is now 14 years old, and she has thrived in the care she receives at the group home. Holt staff in China who have watched her grow up describe her as shy, gentle and charming. Seen as a leader and big sister among the children at the group home, Ming has a special talent for conflict resolution and she is able to create peace among the children when they fight.  They look up to her and listen to her advice. She is also artistic, and especially enjoys the music, dance and visual art classes that the group home offers.

HIV orphan in China living at an HIV group home is tutored by Holt staff.
Ming receives tutoring from a Holt China staff member.

By helping her stay at the group home, Ming’s sponsor has also given her a makeshift family of caregivers and other children who understand her and don’t discriminate against her based on a disease she contracted at birth. 

“Thank you for supporting me. I wish you good health, good luck and happiness.

Ming, in a message to her sponsor

Throughout China, many people still believe they can contract HIV simply by coming into contact with a person who carries the virus. They don’t know that it’s blood-borne, and actually incredibly difficult to contract — especially when modern medicine has rendered it nearly undetectable in many carriers’ blood. They just don’t understand, and with lack of understanding comes fear — and prejudice.

An HIV orphan in China who lives at Holt-supported group home hikes with her friends.
Ming hiking with friends in China.

“I ask people to think about the 1980s in the U.S.,” explains Holt’s vice president for China regional programs, Jian Chen, comparing the current HIV/AIDS crisis in China to a time in the U.S. when the disease was still not well understood, and a positive diagnosis came down like a death sentence.

For children who lose their parents to HIV, children like Ming, this lack of understanding is particularly isolating. If their status is exposed, they can’t enroll in public school. They may not be allowed to play with other children. Even at the group home, the staff has to keep the children’s status a secret from the landlord — or risk eviction.

With support from her sponsor, Ming is able to attend a private school that accepts children who have HIV. She struggles a bit in school, but the staff has arranged for a more flexible learning environment that helps her focus on her studies. This is the kind of attentive care and responsiveness to individual needs that sponsors and donors make possible for the children living in these group homes. 

Recently, Ming wrote a letter to her sponsor, sharing about her life and interests:

“For my hobbies, I love drawing best,” she wrote. “I have already learned drawing for one year and half. Every Sunday, I must overcome a more complicated painting at the drawing class and I would like to hone my patience in this way.”

She also wished to express her gratitude. Because of the kind and generous support of caring people she has never met — and likely never will meet — Ming has found good health and happiness. And she wishes them the same.

“Thank you for supporting me,” she wrote. “I wish you good health, good luck and happiness.”

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