Every time our volunteers at the HIV clinic get referred a poor PLHIV family, somehow they tend to assign the family to me. That was what happened recently, albeit indirectly.
There was this couple referred to us (I wasn't on clinic duty then). The husband, AJ, is HIV +ve, while the result of the first blood test done on the wife showed negative results. With both of them not working, and 2 school-going children, they needed financial help.
So what the volunteer on duty did was to assign a male buddy to the guy, while I was roped in to help out with the children's educational needs. However, the male volunteer assigned to the PLHIV is still a trainee, so usually in such cases he can only be the co-buddy while a senior volunteer will have to be the main buddy. In other words, for the time being, I'd still have to be the main buddy to this couple.
Yesterday I made arrangements to meet up with the wife, Yati. They don't allow us to visit at home since they're staying with Yati's side of the family who doesn't know about AJ's HIV. They only knew that he has TB, that's it.
So we met up at a park. Never having met each other before, I told Yati my car make and registration number. Yati told me she'd be wearing blue. At least on my part, there is only one car with such registration number. But on her part, what if so many women turned up in blue during the same time at the same place? Ah well, never mind, we had each other's phone number, so just call lah!
I got to the park 15 minutes before the promised time, and immediately sent Yati a text message to inform her I was already there. Within just 5 minutes it was her turn to text as she was already there but couldn't find my car. Apparently she was at the other end of the road, so I told her to wait there and I'd park my car nearer to where she was.
Finally I saw her waiting under one of the pondoks, alone. Initially I thought she came alone. But as we started chatting, a little girl came running over and said, "Mak, nak minum!" So her family did come along, including AJ. But AJ was probably too shy to meet me and so he sat a distance away. The trainee volunteer assigned to him had a course to attend and couldn't join me during the meet, so I let AJ be.
Anyway, this couple used to stay at their own house. When I asked Yati what sort of work AJ used to do, "Kerja sendiri kak, dia buat kerja potong pokok. Banyak juga upah dia dapat. Mampulah kami nak beli rumah, tapi belum habis bayar lagilah. Hari tu kami beli lah kereta 2nd hand dari kawan, bayar cash. Elok beli aje kereta, abang pun sakit. Teruslah tak kerja. Sekarang ni menumpang balik rumah mak saya. Naik segan pulak makan minum semua mak tanggung."
Yati's mother is not complaining though. AJ was quite a hardworking guy, and so she accepted the fact that they are now in difficulty due to AJ's temporary inability to work.
Given the nature of AJ's job, and the fact that Yati herself was not working, for the past few months, they had not earned anything. They are completely broke. Even for their little boy to have a RM5 haircut, it was Yati's mother who paid for it when she got her pay. (Yati's mother is working)
It didn't help that of late the Ipoh GH no longer provides CD4 tests for HIV patients. In cases where getting the CD4 result is important, as in AJ's case, he was given a referral letter and he'd have to bring the letter to a private hospital to get the test done. But it's a private hospital and he'd have to pay the cost of RM180. How could they afford it?
Lucky thing we (Buddies) received a grant of RM20K recently from Yayasan Sultan Azlan Shah, and our Board agreed to allocate part of it into our Clients Welfare Fund. So the cost for AJ was covered using this fund.
Yati has been supportive of AJ even after AJ was diagnosed HIV +ve. But AJ himself had been feeling so depressed. At home he'd cry and according to Yati at times it was as though he had given up on life.
Yes, he was very weak when he was down with TB. But physically, he had improved a bit. It's his spirit that needs extra attention now. The news of his HIV really really broke his heart. He felt guilty, he felt hopeless, he felt helpless. He kept on saying sorry to Yati for causing trouble to her and the kids.
I've told the trainee volunteer to call AJ as soon as possible to talk to him, and if possible, to admit to him that he too has HIV (he's one of our HIV +ve volunteers).
Anyway, Yati does have plans. She plans to start a small business, selling drinks for a start. Using her savings, she bought the necessities. But after having bought all those, she ran out of cash to buy the raw materials.
When I asked how much she needed to start the business, she said about RM100 or so. Not much, but she still couldn't afford it yet. Using the donations I usually get from friends on quite a regular basis, I agreed to help her with that. I prefer to channel the money this way ie giving them the fishing rod instead of giving them the fish. At least she takes the effort to improve her life instead of simply waiting for other people's sympathy.
I really hope she'll succeed, and I also hope AJ can get out of his depression soon. With the kind of support he's getting from his wife, he should.