Lindy loved to go to school

Lindy and her brother outside their home in Likasi, Congo.In a village called Chitulu, in Democratic Republic of Congo, on a home-based care visit one day, my wife and I met a little girl named Lindy. She is five years old. She has dark, mourning eyes, and wispy little legs that poke out beneath her skirt. She is HIV-positive. No one seems to know where their father is, and their very sick mother died shortly after Lindy’s birth. She has a seven-year old brother who is healthy. The kids live now with their grandparents.

The grandfather is very old and works each day farming in their field outside town. He loves his grandchildren very much, and when Lindy began getting sick, he carried her on his back to the local clinic. The grandmother is completely blind. She sits on a soft chair in the middle of their house smiling with her eyes wide open: creamy white moons leaking slow drips onto her cheeks.
This is a broken family, but together somehow they are strong. The grandmother calls out to Lindy: “Lindy, is the door open?” or “Lindy, is it raining outside?” The little girl is her grandmother’s eyes. The grandfather relies heavily on his disabled wife for the emotional encouragement to keep working in his old age. Recently the grandmother became very ill, and it seemed for a while that she might not live. His old wife’s illness almost killed the grandfather.

The grandmother told us Lindy loved to go to school, that even though she was too young and was sick, she constantly whined and begged her grandparents to go to school. It is a fact that HIV-postive children don’t live far beyond six years old without ARV treatment. And there was no treatment available in Likasi. So Hands at Work project leaders told Lindy she could start attending the Hands at Work community school while she was still able to make it there. And she did. Little Lindy walked every day up and down hills for 30 minutes to arrive at school, where she sat on a small wooden bench with the other students and tried to learn. Every day she came. She loved it.

Then she became sick. As children get older, the disease begins to liven. And Lindy began to cough too much to sit with the other children. So the teacher put her in a big plastic chair off to the side. Still she came every day. Until the coughing and sickness became too much, and a project worker had to tell Lindy she needed to stay home until she got better. But without proper treatment, how could she get better?

We met Lindy on a Tuesday morning, when she sat with us for a long time on her couch.

The next day, Wednesday, we were 100 miles away from Likasi in Lubumbashi city, in a boardroom negotiating a deal to secure a medical doctor and some counseling staff to travel to Likasi one day per week to provide ARV treatment to 300 AIDS patients within Hands at Work’s project in Likasi. All I could think about was Lindy.

The partnership was actually birthed easily, and by the end of the day it was sealed: the doctor would come; Hands at Work would provide the clinic; he would provide the drugs; Hands at Work would care for the patients in their homes, ensuring their overall health and compliance throughout the treatment.

We didn’t see Lindy when we returned to Likasi. We may never see her again. But we know her name is on that list of 300. And we’re sure it won’t be long until she’s begging and whining to walk the hills to sit again in school.

*The little girl’s real name has been change.