Ben and Phyllis’ Story
Over the past year, we’ve had the privilege of supporting Phyllis and her son Ben through our early childhood development centre in Ahero, Kenya. Phyllis, whose two husbands passed away, is bringing up six children on her own. Because she is HIV-positive, she faces a great deal of stigma in her community, and no one will marry her. She has been left to support her family completely on her own. But Phyllis is an incredibly strong woman, and despite these challenges, she keeps her head high and does all she can for her family. We spent a day with Phyllis and Ben to understand the difficulties they face and how the ECDC has helped them.
As in all families, the morning is a busy time, with Phyllis and her children getting ready for school and work. Phyllis bathes and dresses Ben. She takes great pride in sending Ben to school in his uniform. A mentor from her hospital group purchased most of the uniform for Ben, but Phyllis had to save money for many months to buy his sweater, which cost £5.00.
On most days, the family only eats once a day – usually in the evening, after Phyllis has been paid for her day’s work. Breakfast today is hot water with salt. Some days there is nothing to eat all day, or Phyllis will go without food so her children can eat.
Ben is a quiet child who takes things very seriously. Despite his young age, Ben is extremely aware of the importance of taking his medication. Phyllis tells us that he reminds her to take it every single day.
Before Ben went to the early childhood center – where he eats breakfast – he would often have to take his medication without food. This would cause him serious stomach pains, but this no longer happens.
After walking Ben to school, Phyllis picks up any jobs she can find that day. Today she is house cleaning, getting water, and cutting firewood. Other days she also works in the rice fields and makes charcoal. Knowing that Ben is at school, Phyllis can go to work knowing he will be fed, is well looked after, and is working towards a future he can choose. Before, she often had to leave him behind with the older children and with no food. As a mother this distressed her greatly, but she had no choice: she had to work so she and her family could survive.
When Ben started attending the school funded by AIDS Orphan a year ago, he was malnourished and withdrawn. Now, because of the feeding programme in the school, he’s getting two full meals a day and is actively taking part in the classroom. He is learning English and Swahili, and he has even begun to dream of a different future. He dreams of becoming an airplane pilot, and with the confidence he’s gaining daily, he has a real chance of making this dream a reality.
Phyllis is much happier as well knowing that Ben is receiving a good education. She continues to work hard to provide for her children, and her dedication and perseverance despite the obstacles are impressive. When we told her that people in the West with HIV also face stigma, she said she wants them to “be proud, come out and be free.” In both her outlook and her hard work, Phyllis is truly an inspiration. We could not be happier to have been able to help Ben and Phyllis.