News / Health

Shunned by Family, Haitian Orphan Finds Supportive Home

Shunned by Family, Haitian Orphan Finds Supportive Homei
X
July 21, 2014 7:16 PM
For decades the Caribbean nation of Haiti has been plagued with the highest prevalence of HIV in the Western hemisphere. Consequently, more than a hundred-thousand children have been orphaned; many contracted the virus from their mothers. We introduce you to one young woman who has worked tirelessly to overcome hardships in her life including shame of being orphaned and HIV positive.
Jeff Swicord

Haiti has been plagued with the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the Western Hemisphere. While it has declined significantly – from nearly 10 percent of those screened a decade ago to 3.7 percent as of 2012 – AIDS-related deaths have taken a toll on the Caribbean nation’s children. Roughly 100,000 of those age 17 and younger are orphans of the disease, according to the most recent count provided to UNICEF.

Some 12,000 of Haiti’s youngsters are infected, with many contracting the disease from their mothers, the United Nations' program UNAIDS reports. Two children are born with HIV every day through mother-to-child transmission.

Fear and misunderstanding worsens the disease’s impact, as Venise Louis knows.

A slender, pretty 21-year-old, Venise was 11 when her mother died of what she later learned was an AIDS-related illness. The girl was left orphaned and living with an aunt in Port-au-Prince.

Venise remembers that, as a child, she was weak and often sick. Her aunt usually treated her ailments at home. But when she became gravely ill, Venise was taken to Gheskio Centers, an HIV/AIDS-focused health institution, where she tested positive for HIV infection.

Venise, then 14, found no comfort at home.

Venise Louis says relatives mistreated her because of her HIV infection.Venise Louis says relatives mistreated her because of her HIV infection.
x
Venise Louis says relatives mistreated her because of her HIV infection.
Venise Louis says relatives mistreated her because of her HIV infection.

“My aunt’s boyfriend told her to separate everything I used: silverware, glasses, soap,” Venise recalls. “I slept in a separate part of the house, and I couldn’t play with the other kids.”

Her aunt would not allow her to attend school, fearing she could infect another child if she had a cut or scrape.  

“They told me that if I did not do what they say, they will kick me out of the house and I will be in the streets, like a prostitute, sleeping with men,” Venise says of her aunt and the boyfriend. “And they will not accept me back.”

Needed medical care

She begged her aunt to take her for medical treatment.

“I used to cry a lot every day,” Venise says. “My aunt told me the only way I am going to get treatment is under the earth when I am dead.”

She moved in with another aunt, who sporadically took her for treatment at a hospital. There, a nurse referred her to a psychologist, and Venise disclosed the mistreatment at home. The psychologist suggested placing her at a home run by Caring for Haitian Orphans With AIDS Inc., a nonprofit charity.

Venise arrived at the orphanage in 2009 physically underdeveloped, bone-thin and weak. She was shy, withdrawn and cried a lot.  

“I did not feel good at all. I did not feel like a normal person,” she recalls. “And by the way my aunt treated me, I thought life wasn't meant to be good for me.”

‘Focus on living’

That changed at CHOAIDS, whose “entire existence is working against stigma,” Marie Denis-Luque, the organization’s founder, says in an email to VOA. “We deal with stigma by ... making life as normal for the kids as possible.

“For instance, we do not have a sign to identify the type of work we do at the house. We do not focus so much on disease. Rather, we focus on living.”

All 19 children at the orphanage attend regular schools, Denis-Luque says. Venise, who’s finishing the fourth grade, “has learned to read and is very dedicated to her education.”

When she’s not studying, Venise helps with household chores, including preparing meals for the entire household when the cook is off duty. She’s learning to crochet and bake.

Denis-Luque says CHOAIDS also educates the young residents about HIV, the importance of taking their antiretroviral medications, “and what happens if they do not take them, and we prepare them for the future.”

The children receive their antiretroviral pills twice a day.

“When she started getting regular treatment, she started to gain weight,” the orphanage’s director, Frantz Herold, says of Venise. “She started to get better physically and mentally.”

She also got treatment for tuberculosis, Denis-Luque says. HIV is the strongest risk factor for developing TB, according to UNAIDS. TB, an opportunistic disease, can impair lung function and waste the body.  

An uncomfortable reunion

At VOA’s request, Venise’s aunts agreed to visit her at the orphanage. One of them, Genese, denies any mistreatment of the girl: “If somebody told you that, it is not true. Especially when she was sick, we never abused her.”

Venise remembers things differently: “If they say they did not do that, then they are lying, because they did.”

Her aunts want to put the past behind them, but Venise still harbors too much pain and anguish to forget.

“When I become older, I will let them know what they did to me was wrong,” she says. “For now, I want to finish school, learn a trade and never go back to live with my family again.”

Someday, Venise says, she hopes to work at the orphanage to help other young people living with HIV.

VOA's Carol Guensburg contributed to this report.

Venise Louis, at far right, joins in watching cartoons at a Haitian orphanage for HIV-positive children.
Venise Louis, at far right, joins in watching cartoons at a Haitian orphanage for HIV-positive children.

 

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Steve Isidor from: Miramar, FL
July 22, 2014 8:45 AM
This is a very sad story. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who are under educated about the H.I.V virus. Venise, has demonstrated that she is a very strong and brave individual. She has more character than both of her aunts and I hope she lives a full and satisfying life.
Steve Isidor
Pawol Serye

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs