An interview with Lidia Lisboa, DREAM activist, Director of Matola 2 Nutritional Centre, Mozambique
My experience with DREAM started out sadly and is now full of joy.
In 2002, my husband, the father of my daughter Albertina, died. Shortly afterwards, she started to feel ill too. Very ill. So much so, she stopped studying: she couldn’t even walk anymore!
We went to one hospital after another, but it was difficult to find treatment and I didn’t have enough money. In hospital, one doctor, a woman, told me that if I had money, it wouldn’t have been difficult to treat Albertina. But I didn’t have all the money she asked for, I couldn’t earn enough with the jobs I usually did, and it was highly unlikely that I would find someone to lend me the money. After my husband’s death, I didn’t have any more money. The company he used to work for didn’t give me anything and what’s more, his family came home to take everything of any value: they left me practically empty-handed! I was very worried: finding 10 meticais to buy Paracetamol for Albertina was a problem. I even tried to sell my house to get money to treat my daughter, but I didn’t manage to do so.
The only thing I had left was hope, hope in what seemed to be impossible. And then something happened. The doctor who had told me about the existence of a treatment – albeit a costly one – got to know about the opening of a new health centre. She told me to turn to the Community of Sant’Egidio. I didn’t know anything about it, I had never heard of it.
Anyhow, I went immediately to the DREAM centre. I was a bit apprehensive when I walked in, but there was no problem at all. Albertina was registered and did a blood test. And they told us they would start treatment soon. I was so happy, but everything was so strange: it was all free! When I went to the centre and read “Nao se paga”, it seemed plain impossible to me. And yet that hope I had nurtured within, against all odds, had not been in vain… today I can say that the salvation of my life and that of my daughter was literally given to me as a gift.
But my new-found faith was quickly put to the test. I went back to DREAM almost immediately because my daughter was very ill: she could manage neither to sit up nor to eat. Desperate, I asked the doctors if they could do anything for us. I talked to someone working there, who came home with me, and we decided to take Albertina to hospital. They gave her blood transfusions and discovered that she had tuberculosis. Thanks to the treatment she received at hospital, my daughter recovered quickly. She was very anaemic too, but she managed to recuperate anyhow. She spent two months in the hospital of Machava, and it was nice because many friends from the Community went to visit her. She felt much better; happy with all the attention she was getting, she wanted to live and to be well.
As soon as she was discharged, Albertina started to take antiretroviral treatment. From then onwards, she improved all the time until, in 2004, she returned to school and a normal life. Now she is committed to realising her dream, to continue studying. She doesn’t want to look back and to think about the lost time, or to give up because she is sick. She doesn’t want to stop; she wants to press ahead with her studies. We have triumphed over the disease and so we can triumph over everything we come across from now on.
At first, when I came to know DREAM, I was worried above all about my daughter. She was so ill! I had also taken a test and knew I was HIV-positive, but I was not as unwell as she was, I felt fine.
However, when Albertina started to take treatment, as I watched her gaining weight, starting to play again, resuming the normal activities of one her age, growing to the height she is now, I understood better what it means to fight against AIDS. It shouldn’t be ignored, it should be faced. The fact that my daughter got better opened up a path for me as well.
I started to take antiretroviral treatment too. I suffered a bit from allergy at the start, but then it passed. A pill in the morning and another in the evening… now I am well. And what’s more, I have new friends, new prospects.
Today my life is not the same as it was, it’s better. I have found strength and hope which I didn’t have before, even when I was not yet sick. I have discovered new energies, a strength of love which makes me love many, I would say very many.
Today I am the Director of the Matola 2 Nutritional Centre of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Every day, 800 children eat at the centre, children who are hungry for food but often also for affection. Many of them call me ‘mother’. They want to be cuddled, to be listened to, to be bathed, to be dressed. I am really like a mother to them. It is something beautiful for them, but for me too. It is such a beautiful reality that it seems almost like a dream. It is the dream of love that I can give to so many children.
Here in Africa, children often come last. People don’t manage to spend time with them, there are too many problems. One needs above all to worry about working, about getting the food and clothes needed for the entire family, so playing with a little girl, showing affection towards a little boy, may appear somewhat superfluous. But we don’t want it to be like that at the centre. Here, together with other activists of DREAM, we are like so many mothers, who want to show love and to take care of these children, of every aspect of their lives. We work at the Nutritional Centre, we handle long-distance adoptions. We know each child by name; we know each family and its problems.
In recent months, I got to know one little boy better. Jerson was abandoned, and he always came to the Nutritional Centre, especially to me. He called me ‘mother’. He was searching for shelter and protection, because his face was disfigured due to illness, and so the other children kept him at arm’s length. I thought: “Albertina is well now; our house is small, but not so small that we cannot welcome a little boy.” So I talked it over with Albertina and we decided to take him home. Today he is like a son to me and a brother to her, we are looking after him and he is already much better. He has gained weight; he plays and goes to school.
Ah, and talking about school, I am going too: I have started studying again in the evenings. I am in the same class as Albertina, but she goes in the morning. It’s as if I have rediscovered new youth. There is a curiosity in me to know, to understand, to study. There is cultural interest too. I owe this to the Community; I have been to Europe twice, to Rome, and I have understood that the world is large – it’s not only about my experience and that of my neighbourhood.
My life is now rich with friends, with affection, with so many things, and I have the desire to share this wealth with others. I want to help many children. By helping them, I am supporting and protecting the future of my country, a country I love. It is a country in peace however it has lived through war, a war that lingers in my eyes and my memories. When I think of the saddest things of my life, I always think of the war, which I lived through as a child, and of my sickness, and Albertina’s. But today there is peace in Mozambique, and we are fighting AIDS too, and we want to continue struggling against it.
I am fine. But I don’t just want to nurture my joy. This joy was a real gift, as I have already said, but now it is I who can give. I have received freely and I want to give freely. I can truly say that my experience with the Community has taught me about the beauty of giving, the beauty of a gift. Today, I want to live this beauty in my turn, the beauty of giving, and the beauty of giving hope to many who are still crushed and conquered by evil.