NAME ::: Alice Uwase COUNTRY ::: Rwanda
Since five minutes now, she is looking at her plate, not showing any reaction, just shuffling in the food in front of her. Every spoon seems to be a big hurdle. But Alice needs the food. Not eating means not fighting for her life anymore, so when she is resisting to eat by herself, her mum comes to help her.
Alice has Aids in a late state. The doctors say she might have maybe six months left. Sometimes it seems that she feels that this is also enough, that all the suffering is enough, all the secondary infections that come with the disease, the diarrhea, all those things that make life so painful. She has the face of a grown-up when she looks at you, fully understanding what is happening with her. While the other children at the hospital are still laughing and giggling and crying, Alice is just looking at you with staring eyes, tired of being constantly trying to eat enough to not lose more weight, but never succeeding. Tired of being tired all day, not being able to do anything anymore. She came to the hospital one and a half months ago, already underweight, already with a history with the disease since she is two years old. Alice is six years old now.
Alice mum is also HIV+, her dad as well and her little sister also. Only her older siblings are negative. One could only guess where it comes from, but when the father came back from the war, he was positive what happened the stay unnoticed till it was to late. HIV/ Aids is one of the big killers in Africa. Over the years it has changed whole societies and left many children growing up without parents. But while the parents somehow have at least the ability to avoid being infected, the children have no chance and a case like Alice is showing the worst outcome of the endemic.
We meet Alice while working on a story about malnutrition in the south of Rwanda, and even when the lack of nutritious food is not the main problem, it still applies to her as a crucial side effect that makes it even now in the hospital impossible for her to gain weight again. In Rwanda being in the hospital is very different compared to Europe. The families have to take care for the whole catering of the patient, what can especially for the poor families be a big struggle. Not only to bring enough food, but also it means that a lot of time is spend on traveling forth and back from the hospital. Most of the mums therefore just stay in the hospital.
Alice mum, Jacqueline Mukamanzi, is smiling when she is holding Alice in her arm. The red pullover with the hood is making Alice slim face even look thinner and she is looking very small now. Very different to the appearance on her bed, where she looked so old, so serious, so far away from being a child. But it is maybe also just her mum. Her positive attitude, looking very proud of her daughter, her warmhearted caring for her daughter, silently excepting what is happening, but not giving up on it – it leaves you with a crying smile and nothing else than respect for this strong woman and her little daughter.
When we leave, Alice is looking back to us from the arm of her mum and for the first time that day, she has something like a smile on her face, hardly visible, as if she wants to tell us, don’t worry about me. And then she lifts her arm, while her mum walks away with her, and starts waving at us.