This morning we visited the Baylor Pediatric AIDS Clinic in Maseru. Baylor is a free clinic started by the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas that treats children with HIV and AIDS. We went there to have a carnival for the kids; we brought one of those colorful parachutes you used in elementary school gym classes, rub on tattoos, bubbles, coloring books and crayons, and bracelet and necklace making supplies and set to work playing with the children. I’ll come back to our time at Baylor in a minute, but I want to outline the rest of the day first.
In the afternoon we went to Kick For Life and wound up playing soccer with some Basotho kids for about two hours. Now, I have a bad history with soccer. It’s a long story that involves mean little girls–I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I’ve never been a fan since. But I decided to follow the motto “When in Lesotho, play soccer with the Basotho!” (They say that, right? Well…they should.) Like I said, we played for about two hours and it was SO much fun. The children didn’t speak much English, but we could all understand the game (except for the fact that we couldn’t always tell which little boys were on our team–there were a lot, and I’m pretty sure some of them kept changing sides). The kids were very good, but we held our own. We were pretty proud of that fact until we realized that they were a lot younger than us so we should have probably been embarrassed. It was so great to be able to have fun with these kids and give them some new opponents, and I think it helped all of us to bond as well. Plus I scored a goal, so basically it was the most exciting moment of my life because other than that I was pretty terrible. Needless to say, soccer has been salvaged for me.
Back to Baylor. The atmosphere outside during the carnival was so happy and positive and that’s really all I could think about. I just loved seeing their smiling faces and knowing that we were a part of that. I know not everyone felt the same way, but I left Baylor in pretty positive spirits. These were sick kids that we got to make feel special and important for part of a day, and I felt good about that.
I didn’t realize just how difficult the morning was until our group meeting tonight. That’s when the waterworks started–myself and many others included. One thing Dr. Rosenberg told us is that Baylor treats about 3,000 kids, which is awesome. However, that’s only about 10% of the kids who significantly need treatment, and that doesn’t include the many other children who are infected. For a while this morning I was holding this little boy. I saw his sister carrying him around and told her I could hold him for a bit if she wanted to play or make a bracelet or something. As I was holding him, I realized he was very different from the other babies I’ve held. His sister told me he was a year and two months, but he didn’t look like it. His fists were clenched the entire time I held him, and he couldn’t really move his fingers much when he tried. Periodically he would start to shake a lot, and his eyes never really focused on anything the entire time I held him. I knew that this wasn’t normal. This was AIDS.
Everyone had experiences like this today, and I could go on forever talking about our time this morning. There were a lot of emotions today–joy, sadness, anger, grief, guilt. But I have to walk away feeling like we did something helpful. At the end of the day, I think what I will take away most from Baylor is the importance of small acts. It’s true that we can’t cure all those kids. There is a lot we can’t do for them, and that’s a hard reality to face, especially when all of us have so much. But when we were playing with the kids I forgot that they were all there because they had AIDS, and if we could do that for them for even a second, I think our time is worthwhile. During our meeting, a quote from Edward Everett Hale popped into my mind. That’s where I’ll end this post:
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”