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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.