I would like to take a moment from your busy day to tell you about a boy named Sammi.
Sammi is an orphan. When both his parents died of AIDS, he and his younger siblings were dropped off at an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The children were tested to make sure they were healthy for adoption. Sammi’s young siblings passed with a clean bill of health but the eight year old boy, like his parents, tested positive for HIV. His siblings – his only family – were adopted by a family in the United States. And, Sammi – with no medicine available to children with HIV back in 2004 – was sent to live at a place called AHOPE.
AHOPE started as a place for these children with, well, with no hope; kids with HIV before drugs were available for them in Ethiopia or really anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa with no family left to care for them. It was really nothing more than a hospice – a place to care for these dying children.
But then President George W. Bush worked to pass PEPFAR; a program that funded and still funds the availability of anti-retroviral drugs to the people of Africa. A simple thing really, but it changed everything.
Children who have AIDS who start taking anti-retrovirals – live. Something truly remarkable happens – it’s called the Lazarus effect (and I am not sure who Lazarus is but I’d like to meet him). Children with full blown AIDS who take anti-retrovirals have the ability to go back to merely being HIV+. Their viral load regresses and the disease fades. Now, they are still HIV+ but they have the chance to literally live full lives.
So Sammi, who like all the HIV+ kids living at AHOPE, suddenly has the ability to live. And in 2005 the mission of this little hospice changes. Sammi is gonna live and you know what? He needs to be educated. He needs to learn to read and write and he needs exercise and he needs more – he needs more of everything.
And so AHOPE (with it’s American funder AHOPE for Children) starts a sponsorship program to get folks to help pay for these kids to literally live – to learn, to grow, to thrive.
As international adoption grows and folks adopt from Ethiopia, folks come to realize that there is a whole lot of kids who are true orphans in Ethiopia who should be adopted but alas, can’t be allowed into the US because they are HIV+. In 2004, the State Department changed that rule so now the kids in AHOPE can be adopted.
Things seem grand. People want children, they seem open to children with ‘special needs’ and AHOPE has children who need moms and dads. But then there is Sammi. You see by 2007, Sammi is 11.
Not a whole lot of folks are looking to build their families by adopting 11 year old boys with HIV who have lived in orphanages since they were 8. It isn’t fair but it is a startling reality.
Now Sammi is coming close to 16. He has lived at AHOPE for almost half his life and it is getting to that time. That time when even AHOPE can’t give him much, well, hope. He has gotten an education to this point, and his body is strong. He will live because he can get the necessary drugs. But, Sammi – like so many other children at AHOPE who have not and will not be adopted – needs more. So now it is AHOPE’s mission to figure out what’s next for Sammi and for all the children who need to grow up and become a part of Ethiopian society. In response to the changing needs of the children, AHOPE has started a Youth Transition Program.
Today we are excited and looking forward – we are looking to our Transition Homes – to a place where Sammi can live in a house with other boys his age. These boys will become young men who will finish school and move on to job training or university or will go out into the world with a path. AHOPE will always be Sammi’s home and his family. He will always be welcome and he’ll know he and all the children to follow will have a chance to be Ethiopia’s future.
Click here to read more about the Youth Transition Program.