A story by Louis Mwewa, Firelight resource person and executive director of Lupwa Lwabumi Trust in Zambia. “Alintula” means “saved me” in the Bantu language, Bemba, spoken by the Bemba people in Zambia.
Alintula was referred to Lupwa Lwabumi Trust (LLT), a Firelight grantee and community-based organization in Chazanga, Zambia, from an organization called Circles of Hope, operating under the auspices of the Anglican Church in Lusaka.
Circles of Hope was faced with a financial crisis and could no longer continue supporting Alintula, despite caring deeply about the girl and her well-being. Unable to attend school, she felt rejected, neglected, and hopeless, and even stopped taking her antiretroviral (ARV) medication.
The coordinator for Circles of Hope Anglican Church—a woman named Monica—approached LLT about the possibility of taking Alintula into their program. Recognizing from the outset that this was a genuine case meriting support, LLT didn’t give a second thought as to how they were going to pay for Alintula’s care.
Immediately after the two groups met, a visit was organized for LLT staff to meet the girl and her family. The visit was revelatory. LLT learned that Alintula was being cared for by her late mother’s sister, who at the time was earning a living by cooking for a local motel.
Life was not easy for the family. Even though her own child was already grown, Alintula’s aunt still had the burden of looking after the children of several other relatives.
Following the family visit, it was agreed that the family would be placed into family counseling and that Alintula would go back to school. You couldn’t have imagined a happier child. Covering the debt for her previous year’s tuition, LLT re-enrolled Alintula in school. Almost immediately, she was like a different child—cheerful and hopeful. Her new state of mind was evident in her getting back on her ARVs.
But LLT’s work didn’t end there. They also helped Alintula’s aunt start a small business related to her work at the motel. By late 2008, her business had improved. In a relatively short period of time, Alintula’s aunt became a self-sustaining full-time businesswoman, sometimes even traveling outside Zambia for work. She is an active member of the family ‘circle of care and support’ in the Mandevu Compound, where her family lives.
LLT also helped get Alintula’s two other cousins back into school and covered tuition and other fees for the two children for one year to allow their guardian to prepare to take over the responsibility. Other school requirements, such as uniforms, were provided for by Alintula’s aunt.
Just who is Alintula?
Alintula is not just an ordinary girl. In our view she is a girl of substance who has learned to live positively.
Her family knew about her HIV status when she was 10 years old and her mother was still alive. Unfortunately, at the time she was born, voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) was not yet commonly practiced, and antiretroviral treatment (ART) programs were not as numerous or effective as they are today.
Alintula was born at a time when there was so much denial about HIV/AIDS. After the death of her parents, her aunt took responsibility for caring for her, and subsequently sought help from Circles of Hope to learn how to take care of the child as well as her own emotional well-being. The group helped the family get Alintula on ART and continued to provide all the caregiver counseling that her aunt needed. When Alintula was ready for counseling to help her deal with her own situation, the Circles of Hope women filled that role very well. It was just after Alintula started the 10th grade that she began to suffer even more hardship, which is when LLT came into her life.
Our journey with Alintula has been a very interesting one. We have learnt several lessons. This is why we refer to her as “our hero”.
Today, people know her as a cheerful and friendly person. Had you been meeting her for the first time, you wouldn’t know that she is HIV-positive. She always wears a very beautiful smile. She always wants to know the truth about what is going on. She believes in herself and is ready to face the challenges that come her way. On and off, she has battled related illnesses; yet they have never shaken her. She was the president of the HIV/AIDS club at her school—a role she performed very well as an ambassador for children living positively with HIV/AIDS. Alintula is a great inspiration not only to HIV-positive people, but to all those who seem to have lost hope.
Working with Alintula has brought a lot of hope into our work. We have been so inspired that the restoration of one child’s life means so much to LLT.
I wish you could meet her. She would send you home with a feeling of great satisfaction and hope that we can change the world if we focus and do our work well.
The Firelight Foundation has walked with us in changing the lives of Alintula and her family. The difference is remarkable.
Today, Alintula’s aunt looks her age, as compared to the first time we met her. You see a beautiful smiling face full of life and ready to face life’s challenges instead of complaining or giving in to fear.
Alintula has just started a new life, preparing to volunteer with LLT to work with children’s and young people’s groups in the communities where LLT is operating. We are all unbelievably happy for her as she moves on.
On the day of Alintula’s graduation, LLT Executive Director, Mr. Masiliso, acted as her guardian because her aunt was out of town, and also officiated the special day as a guest of honor. It was great day for Alintula.
We didn’t think we could afford to keep this story to ourselves. We want to share it with you because we believe it can help change the lives of other vulnerable children.