Project Helps Blind Boy With HIV Enter School at Age 12

John Nyoni works as a project manager for Muheza Hospice Care of the Anglican Diocese of Tanga, one of CRS’ local partners implementing a project for orphans and vulnerable children. Here he shares how the project took up a fight to help an HIV+ child enter school.

Johari Mgulumo is a blind 13-year-old boy with HIV. He grew up in Tanzania’s capital of Dar es Salaam where his parents had moved to seek employment. His father Dickson worked as a driver, and his mother Rebecca was a housewife.

In 2004, Johari’s mother died from a chronic illness. Two years later, Johari’s father died as well. Johari first moved in with his grandmother, but then he was brought to the coastal district of Muheza by one of his uncles, a small-scale farmer who could better support him.

In November 2008, Johari’s uncle, Jackson Mkweta, learned that Muheza Hospice Care was helping to support children affected by and living with HIV. Jackson had previously learned through our voluntary counseling and testing services that his nephew had contracted the virus, bringing him in for a test after he kept falling sick.

Tanzania orphan

At the age of 12 on July 4, 2009, Johari Mgulumo began first grade. Johari who is blind and HIV positive, lives with an uncle who cared for him following the death of Johari’s parents. Photo courtesy of John Nyoni, Muhesa Hospice Care

I learned from Jackson that Johari wasn’t enrolled in school, even though he was 12 years old at the time. I asked why this was the case, as most of our project services focus on educational needs. Jackson explained that he had tried to enroll Johari in a special school due to his blindness but was told by the headmaster that this wasn’t possible due to Johari’s HIV-positive status.

I was very disappointed to hear this sad news and discussed the situation the next morning with fellow staff members. We decided to write a letter to the headmaster requesting Johari’s enrollment. The headmaster replied with a request for Johari’s medical report and to meet him in person. Due to our workloads, we asked Jackson to take his nephew to the school to meet the headmaster and deliver the medical documents.

Jackson reported back that the headmaster said, “I already told you that we cannot accept a child who is HIV-positive.” I decided to consult with the district medical officer on issues of stigma and national education policy about children living with HIV. I then went personally with our project officer to talk to the headmaster.

The headmaster told us that the school was now full due to new enrollments of albinos. We stated that Johari’s case was not a new one and that he had already been promised a spot. When I saw the headmaster still resisting, I asked him directly if he knew the national policy on HIV-positive students. He said “Yes.” I next asked why he was discriminating against Johari. Then I told him that I needed his final decision in order to report back to the district medical officer.

This statement frightened him. He said, “Okay, bring that boy tomorrow with uniforms, a metal storage box and a few clothes.” We took a deep breath of relief after winning this tough battle.

When we told Johari’s relatives the news, they were very happy and couldn’t stop crying from joy. They promised to say a special prayer to thank God for what he had done. Muheza Hospice Care was able to pay for the supplies Johari needed through CRS’ project for orphans and vulnerable children. And because the boarding school is run by the government, Johari’s family won’t have to pay any fees.

On July 4, 2009, Johari began first grade at the age of 12 years old. This was a proud day for him, his family and all of us at CRS and Muheza Hospice Care.

– John Nyoni

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