Band of Sisters

Disease, loss and abuse defined their childhood — until now.

By Isaac Ogila With Willow Welter
Photos by Isaac Ogila

Jane, Rose, Hope and Mumo* watched in dread as their mother developed the same symptoms their father had before he died a year earlier.

“It is difficult seeing someone you love wither away and there’s nothing you can do,” says Jane, 15. “It still breaks my heart to this day.”

When their mom succumbed to the illness, she left the four girls with their grandmother, a supply of pills and a fervent instruction: Make sure Mumo takes this medicine every day with food.

After their mother’s funeral, the children’s agony continued at the hands of their grandmother, who illegally brewed and sold alcohol out of her home. “She was always drunk,” Jane says. “She became abusive and would turn violent.” She stopped paying the children’s school fees and often denied them food.

“I can’t count the number of days and nights we stayed hungry,” says Jane. “Our grandmother would cook food and eat it all ... while hurling insults at us. We watched her eat all the food with rumbling stomachs.”

The sisters resorted to begging neighbors for food. But when their grandmother found out about it, she beat them. All four sisters were growing weaker in body and spirit. Mumo, 6, appeared to be struggling the most, even though Jane ensured she took the mysterious pills their mother had left.

A turning point came in the sisters’ story when their grandmother tried to force Jane to marry an older man, who had offered to pay handsomely in return. “We began contemplating suicide,” Jane says.

Instead, the sisters ran away. A former neighbor saw them begging on the streets and asked them how they were. After the girls shared their heartbreaking story, the woman took them to the same place that provided help and love to her own child: a Compassion-assisted church center. The pastor at the church fed and clothed the girls while listening to their story, then contacted police and social workers. 

The girls were sent to live at a nearby home for children, and they began attending Compassion activities at the church. When the church staff took Mumo to a doctor, they learned one reason for her worsening health: She was HIV-positive.

Nearly 9 out of 10 children and adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV, according to 2019 UNAIDS estimates. Children can be infected during childbirth and breastfeeding. And girls are particularly vulnerable: 4 in 5 new HIV infections among adolescents occurred among adolescent girls. Sexual violence, poverty, a lack of education and a lack of access to HIV testing contribute to the continued spread of HIV among girls.

Compassion partners with churches in sub-Saharan Africa to educate sponsored children and their families about HIV prevention, test for the disease, and help those who have it get the life-saving medicine they need. 

Thanks to people who gave to Compassion’s HIV/AIDS Care fund, Mumo’s church was able to begin paying for her care. An ongoing regimen of nutritional support and antiretroviral drugs suppresses the HIV, giving Mumo the chance to live a long life. She and her sisters also receive emotional support so they can begin fully healing from the trauma they’ve experienced.

“We have continuously provided Mumo and her siblings with counseling and psycho-social support,” says the director oftheir Compassion-assisted center. “They have a family within the center.”

 

*Names changed due to sensitive subject matter

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. — Isaiah 1:17, NIV