CRS photojournalist and communications officer Sara Fajardo reports from her visit to Guyana:
Patients at the CRS sponsored St. Vincent de Paul Hospice Center measure health in belt notches.
“When I arrived two weeks ago I had to wear a belt to keep my pants up,” says new hospice resident Terrenc, 32, “But with the good food they feed us I no longer need one.”
For Wanda, 34, it was slow deliberate steps that defined her in her first days at the hospice a little over two months ago. She’d cling to chairs and grasp walls as she made her way through the three-story building.
It’s hard for me to imagine those early days as I spend the day with them now. Terrenc’s cheeks are filling out, he loves to nap the day away, and eagerly check on the menus for each meal. Wanda radiates joy, smiles easily, sprints up the stairs, dances to the beat of music videos whenever fellow patient Sammy turns the channel away from his beloved Cricket matches.
They have mouth-watering conversations about black pudding, white pudding, and corn on the cob simmered in coconut milk. They play heated games of dominoes in the front patio and daydream of where their lives will lead them once their three months at the hospice comes to an end.
Living with HIV isn’t easy in Guyana they tell me. There are a lot of misconceptions about the virus. The city of Georgetown is plastered with posters, billboards and murals about HIV facts. One painted wall shows all the ways you can’t get it, by hugging someone, by being in the same room as them, by sharing a bathroom. These teachings are common knowledge in the U.S., but have to be emphasized in Guyana.
One of the caregivers at the hospice tells me that an integral part of a patient’s care is the involvement of the family. A lot of times loved ones refuse to visit. Some say things like, “Why should I? They are dead already.” This can be a puzzling reaction for those living with HIV.
“I’m still the same old Wanda,” she says. “I haven’t changed, I still love to dance and sing.”
A family’s reaction can be heartbreaking, so the hospice makes it a part of their mission to educate families, to bring them into the fold. The family’s role is emphasized once a person is released from hospice care with follow-up home visits.
But this particular group is lucky. They have been fully embraced by their families.
On the day I was there, three of the four patients currently staying at the hospice received visits from loved ones. The following day there was a birthday party for Sammy, complete with a special curry and a cake.
“This feels like home to me,” Sammy says.
“They treat us like family,” Wanda adds.
As I leave Terrenc tells me, “God places a port in the middle of every storm, this place is that port for me.”
As I ride home in the taxi I reflect on what he said. I look out the window and lose count of the HIV awareness signs I pass. I’d fallen in love with everyone at the hospice, their warmth, their joy, their dreams, and their hope. It had been an incredible day of cricket matches, dominoes, and stories. I am heartened that a port like the hospice exists for people like Terrenc, and feel proud that CRS is part of the harbor that shelters them.
– Sara Fajardo
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