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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid