God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

The last birthday

Stefan Hippler

The last birthday  –  Little Fareed’s death – a common outrage in Africa

Fareed* is emaciated and he breathes heavily. For a ten-year-old boy he weighs too little and his eyes seem far too big for his face. And yet, Fareed is one of the luckier children. He has been admitted into a hospital, the Ithemba ward at Tygerberg Hospital. Fareed’s sister has sat by his bedside for days. She holds his hand, helps to change the bedding, comforts him.
When I meet Fareed for the first time, volunteers have just made up his complexion with base. His big, sunken eyes look at me with quiet determination. Fareed has a yearning desire: he wants to have a birthday party. He was there when a little girl in the next room had a birthday party, organised by colleagues from HOPE Cape Town. It had a cake with candles and presents and all the trimmings. He would like that too.
But there is one problem: Fareed will not live to see his next birthday. He has only days to live.

We decide to grant him his last wish anyway. We bake cakes, buy gifts, and decorate the room. And two days later we celebrate his “eleventh birthday”. Fareed cannot get up, so all the children are gathered around his bed, the birthday cake with burning candles on the side-table. We help him to unwrap his presents – he is too weak to do even that. Our chorus of “Happy Birthday” sounds more like a swansong. I struggle to hold back my tears, as does everybody else. It is a cheerful horror party which I won’t forget as long as I live. But little Fareed is happy. A smile frequent smile floods across his face; he doesn’t have enough strength to animate his joy. A week later Fareed dies.
These beautiful memories are distorted by a rage that this child had to die because at the time the medications which might have relieved his suffering and extend his life were unaffordable. It was an unnecessary, senseless death. And yet it is this particular death which revitalise me in times of despair, when I’m about to give up, when the sheer enormity of the suffering I see threatens to crush me. Fareed, a fleeting acquaintance in my life, has seared himself into my heart with a scorching intensity. When doubts start to take over, I think about him and remind myself why I am involved: on behalf of Fareed and all the children and adolescents I have watched suffering and dying from Aids, some in calm serenity, others crying in pain. Every such child, every such adolescent, represents the dying cries of the crucified Jesus in our times.

* Name changed

Translation from:
Gott – Aids – Afrika
Hardcover: 207 pages  –  Publisher: Kiepenheuer & Witsch GmbH (August 31, 2007)
Language: German  –  ISBN-10: 3462039253  –  ISBN-13: 978-3462039252
Gott – Aids – Afrika
Paperback  – Bastei – Luebbe  –
Language: German  –  ISBN-10: 3404606159  –  ISBN-13: 978-3404606153

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

HIV, Development and HOPE – thoughts of a Catholic priest

Being a Roman - Catholic priest and working in the fields of HIV and social development in Africa has its challenges. You will find stories and reflections about my work, about the church, South Africa and Africa, about politics and whatever triggers my interest. You are most welcome to leave a comment or to get in touch with me. Blogging means to initiate thoughts and discussions and for the writer to formulate what is loosely running around in the heart and mind in need of being sorted and spoken out.

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