When Rosalita’s husband’s badly infected foot did not improve, the family made its way from Macas to the better public hospital in Cuenca. The bus ride took seven hours, and the diagnosis they received was terrible. He had full-blown AIDS, and Rosalita and one of their two children were HIV positive. Now, eighteen months later, Rosalita is a widow living with the stresses of raising her children alone, fearing her family’s medical future, as well as knowing that she can never, never, never tell anyone about it.
She cannot ask for help. The shame of her husband’s sexual activity outside of their marriage and the stigma of this particular illness—seen by some as punishment from God—are in some ways harder for her to deal with than her condition.
An HIV-positive finding is not the same as a diagnosis of AIDS. Except for the worry that has etched her face, Rosalita looks and feels healthy. But to maintain her health and ability to care for her children, she and her daughter must receive medication and regular monitoring of their T-cell and virus levels.
Persons receiving treatment for HIV feel they cannot risk the ostracism and shame that will attach if anyone in their communities discovers their situation. That is why every two months Rosalita and her children make the long trip to Cuenca, and why HIV-infected patients from Cuenca usually travel to hospitals in other cities to see their doctors. The costs of each trip are a challenge for Rosalita. She has no place to stay during her two-day visits, and little money for food and transportation.
When activist Garry Vatcher heard from social workers and doctors about Rosalita he realized the need to have a place, similar to the Ronald McDonald houses in the US and elsewhere, where these special patients and their families can stay for the few days it takes to complete their medical monitoring. Within a few months, Garry had lined up doctors, priests, social workers, as well as a cadre of compassionate expat and Ecuadorian volunteers, who support his vision to build a Home of Hope, or Hogar de la Esperanza, to provide short-term lodging and support to persons in Rosalita’s position.
In addition to providing a place to sleep and meals, clients of the Hogar will undergo a needs assessment by a qualified social worker, for things such as psychological counselling, child care, clothing and transportation assistance. The Hearts of Gold Foundation has offered their fund-collecting and bookkeeping assistance to assure that all donations are properly accounted for, and all legalities met.
Rosalita’s name has been changed for the purposes of this article. Statistics about the actual numbers of HIV-positive persons being treated in Cuenca hospitals are unavailable because of privacy concerns, but the best guesses are that Hogar de la Esperanza will be called upon to serve about eighty clients per month.
The next step is to obtain funds sufficient to rent a large house and begin operations. To that end, a Kick Off dinner and auction, called Bringing Hope Home, will be held at the Quinta Tinajarumi on March 5, with a cash bar starting at 5:00pm and dinner at 6:30.For more information and directions, see the website at www.HogardelaEsperanzaEcuador.org.
Your support is very important to people like Rosalita. You can bring hope home.