The story of Amelezewd is the story of AHOPE.
Born in 1992, Amelezewd lived with her loving family until age 11. Having watched both her parents suffer from HIV, when they eventually died of AIDS Amelezewd and her two younger brothers were left homeless. You see, at the time, it was impossible for these children to stay in their own community, the stigma against the children because their parents died of HIV/AIDS was so intense – and the poverty so prevalent, that no neighbors would care for them. A family friend took the children to a neighborhood orphanage, but they were rejected because they found out the devastating news that in fact, Amelezewd and one of her brothers tested positive for HIV. They did live briefly in another place that housed the general adult population, HIV+ individuals and people with mental illness. But thankfully, because of the concern of this family friend, the children found their home at AHOPE – the only organization that cares exclusively for HIV+ children.
Amelezewd was a truly extraordinary young lady. Despite poor school attendance, due to her frequent illnesses, and despite her AIDS related hearing loss, Amelezewd was one of the top students in her school. She was fluent in both Amharic and English and learned to read lips so well in both languages that few people who encountered her even knew that she was hearing impaired.
During her time at AHOPE, Amelezewd captivated the staff, volunteers, the other children and even visitors. Her sparkle, intelligence and her genuine friendliness taught all of us a lesson about the possibilities for all the children in our care. Amelezewd’s deep spirituality and diligent religious study showed us all the meaning of grace and of hope. She believed – not only in the spirit and care of her Lord, but in the strength and purpose to live her life to its fullest. She set an example for her fellow “brothers and sisters” at AHOPE of why they should meet every day with renewed energy and vitality.
In the spring of 2005, Amelezewd’s health began to fail. Yet, despite being in and out of the hospital, she fought a valiant fight. With her strength and determination, she set the example for all the children. If Amelezewd could study and learn, so could they. If Amelezewd could face each day with a smile and with hope, so could they.
In September of 2005, anti-retroviral medicines first became available to the children of AHOPE. And while ARVs save the lives of countless children with HIV/AIDS, for Amelezewd they arrived too late. Amelezewd died on Number 29, 2005. A child of great promise lost to her brothers, lost to her country and lost to the world.
We will always keep Amelezewd’s memory alive in the hope we have for our children. We carry her in our heart as a symbol of the potential of each of the children we love, nurture and guide to adulthood. For the children of AHOPE, Amelezewd is the legacy of promise each are destined to fulfill.
But Amelezewd left us a more tangible gift as well. She left us her journals – filled with her hopes, her fears, her wisdom and her courage. Already published in Amharic, we are working on finding an editor and publisher in English so that we can share her story with the world.