Anastasia leads us into her little sister’s bedroom. She tells Helen to say hello, and Helen utters a barely audible greeting. She is looking off in the distance. Anastasia sits beside Helen on her sister’s bed to pose for a picture, but Helen is a million miles away.
The five children who have followed us into the bedroom call out gently to get Helen’s attention and get her to look at the camera, like you would to a baby in a photo studio. She looks in my direction only briefly, but it’s long enough for me to catch the blank emotionless look in her eyes. Helen is there, but she’s not there.
Helen is 35 years old. She learned of her HIV Positive status this past June. She refused to accept her diagnosis, and her health deteriorated drastically and quickly. Prior to June, she worked as a house cleaner and cared for her three children. She was full of life and energy.
Since then, though, Helen has almost entirely withdrawn from the world. She is bedridden, she barely speaks, and she has to be cared for by her sister. Helen has even taken to wearing diapers, since she can no longer go to the washroom on her own. The stress of her diagnosis and the medication were simply too much for her.
Helen’s story is shockingly a common one. Living Positive Kenya has helped countless women just like her regain their spark.
Anastasia is certain that her sister will resurface soon enough. Until then, though, this soft-spoken, gentle woman must carry the weight of the family on her shoulders. On top of caring for her younger sister and her three nieces and nephews, NAME also has a vegetable market to run and five of her own children to look after. She is extremely busy and is very appreciative of the small help she gets from a few select friends in the community.
The biggest challenges, she says, are affording money for diapers and finding transportation to get Helen to the hospital three times every month, since Helen cannot walk.
Thankfully, LPK has been there for Anastasia and Helen every step of the way. When she feels that she does not have food for the children, Anastasia just goes to LPK. When she feels overwhelmed and stressed, she turns to LPK. There was even a time when Helen was very violent, and LPK would come help get Helen dressed. With regards to medication, Anastasia says, “When I found out about my sister, I knew nothing about medication. But LPK has turned me into a professional on medication.” LPK’s help has been invaluable.
Helen has shown signs of improvement since June thanks to all of this support. She was initially not able to speak at all, but now she has started speaking a bit here and there. Sometimes when the family is in the middle of a conversation, after some time, Helen will repeat something somebody had said earlier. It’s progress.
” LPK makes me feel positive about the future,” Anastasia says. “Even when I discovered Helen was sick, I didn’t take it very hard because I have seen others in LPK very sick, and now they are all very healthy.”
After we finish taking photos of Helen and Anastasia, the children beg me to take their photos. All five of them sit with Anastasia on the couch and make silly faces at the camera. The children laugh, and even perform a song together. I show them the photos and the video and they burst into hysterics, falling back on to the couch. They are so full of laughter and happiness that you would never know Helen is lying sick in bed in the other room. And that, I think, is a testament both to the spirit of this family and the work of LPK. Their faith that Helen will get better and be back on her feet is so strong and certain that the love and laughter in the house never skips a beat.