This is not about pulling at the heart strings and it is not about feeling sorry for the people of Africa. It is about being aware, about what is going on in South Africa surrounding HIV and AIDS. And it is about Boni’s voice, her story, being heard around the world so that it need not happen to others!
Boni was an inpatient at the Samaritan Care Centre for a little over a month. She came to us by referral from a community member. Her mother was no longer able to properly care for her at home. The hospital had told her to go home because there was nothing that they could do for her. She was not on ARV's or any other medicines as she was "too far gone." A doctor who volunteered with us for a month would give her fluids when he could get them from the local clinic and this was the only medical care she was given. When she was admitted she was quite literally skin and bones. In the beginning of her stay she was able to whisper to the staff her needs and she was able to eat some solid foods. But as the weeks went on she became weaker and not able to take any food because of the thrush in her mouth. She was in pain from the sores that ravaged her body. In the last days of her life, she lay in the bed in and out of consciousness. I prayed daily that God would take her out of this pain and hurt.
God answered those prayers on 3 April, 2008. Her mother was visiting at the centre and begging us to take her to what is called the "pay point." Boni had a monthly grant because she was HIV+ and disabled. One must go to the pay point to collect the grant money. Because of fraud, the grantee must collect the money him or herself by verifying their fingerprint into a computer system. So two of the caregivers, along with Boni's mom, lifted her into my truck for us to go and collect her grant. Boni died as we drove to the pay point. As we drove back to the centre, I saw in my rearview mirror the pain and grief in the mother's face and my own eyes welled with tears as I thought of her loss. But on the inside I thanked God for taking Boni from this pain and agony she was suffering. Earlier that day as I was driving I was singing an isiXhosa song about opening the gates of heaven and God did just that for Boni.
Boni is not the first one who has suffered such a terrible and painful death, but we should pray for the day when this type of death and this type of suffering will be a thing of the past. So many issues come to mind to consider and to pray about:
How can we impact the education system so that young people really understand the dangers of HIV and AIDS? How can the root causes leading to this path be addressed?
Why are ARV's (anti-retrovirals) not given to people who are HIV+ sooner, rather than later?
Why must someone so sick have to physically go to the pay point to collect their money? Why are there not other options within the government system of distributing grants for such circumstances?
Why do mothers have to be so desperate to take their dying daughters to a pay point so they have money to survive for the month ahead?
Why are there no pain medications for people who are dying such cruel deaths?
How can hospitals just send people away and say "there is nothing we can do, go home and die."?
The list of questions goes on and on, but the reality for right now is there are no clear answers. The hope and joy I find in these circumstances is that our God is a God of peace and now Boni is with God. And we do not forget the many women at the Samaritan Care Centre who volunteer endless hours that care for patients like Boni with such love, care and concern.
May we all take something from the life of Boni and work to change the world that is around us.
May Boni rest in peace with our eternal and ever-lasting God.
Rev. Dawn Barnes
Jonathan and Dawn Barnes are missionaries with the Kei Regional Council of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, South Africa. They serve as development officers in the Kei region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.