Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Story of Mina

I first met "Mina" 3 weeks ago in the office of YPKM, Yayasan Pengembangan Kesehatan Masyarakat, a local NGO here in Wamena that assists those already infected with HIV/AIDS.  YPKM focuses on maintaining and improving the health of their "dampingan" or "Assistee."  To achieve their mission, YPKM provides transportation to those living very far away from a VCT clinic (voluntary counseling and testing clinic) when they want to get tested or get their medicines, they visit and monitor patients in their homes and hospitals, they provide spiritual support and helps their "dampingan" when they want to open up their status to their family members.  Lastly, what separates YPKM from other NGOs is that they provide basic foods (staple) to help them maintain their health such as rice, cooking oil, milk, green beans, and sugar and provide temporary shelter for recovery.

Most Papuans in Wamena works as a farmer and sell their crops such as vegetables and fruits at a local market earning enough to household items averaging around $5-8/day.  However, despite doing physical labor working on the field they don't consume enough nutritious food.  Their main staple is consisted of ubi or cassava that holds no nutritional value but satisfy hunger and meat is eaten rarely, only for special occasions.  As a result, maintaining one's health once infected with HIV/AIDS is definitely one of the biggest challenges since the HIV virus living inside the body will attack the body's natural defense system and makes one much more vulnerable to "opportunistic infections" such as Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, Malaria, etc.

Mina sat quietly in the office, she was quiet and shy.  I asked Pak Simson, the coordinator of YPKM, why she is here.  He told me that one of the field workers just took Mina to get tested for HIV and the result was positive.  I asked her if she knew how old she was and she shook her head.  Pak Simson then informed that that she has been sick, coughing and experiencing diarrhea for over a month.  Judging by her appearance and ailments, Mina is possibly on Stage 2 of AIDS.

We suspected that Mina is around 10-11 years old.  She came originally from Yahukimo and she walked 5 days to reach Wamena.  She spent one month living with acquaintances from the same village until she fell sick.  They brought her to the health clinic and that's when Mina met of the field workers of YPKM.  We don't really for sure how Mina got infected with HIV but she told us that she was forced to have sex with an older man back in Yahukimo.  The man settled with her family, in Papuans culture usually with pigs.  However, the man later died from a sickness. We suspect the man died of AIDS and that's how Mina got infected.

I asked Mina how often she eats at home.  She told me that she eats once a day and usually ubi or rice if she has enough money.  I looked at Pak Simson and he nodded in agreement.  Pak Simson asked Mina if she wants to stay at the shelter.  She nodded and thanked us.

I photographed Mina the first time I met her.  She was quiet and shy, but her piercing gaze struck me.  Judging from her appearance and the ailments it is possible that she is on Stage 2 of AIDS.

YPKM asked Mina to stay at their temporary shelter while she recovers.  Mina eats in her room that she shares with another girl. There was only one mattress and I bought another one for her to sleep on.

Mina drinks a glass of milk while gazing out the window.

Pak Simson checked the scale and verified that Mina had gained 3kg (almost 7lbs) ever since she stayed at YPKM Rumah Singgah or temporary shelter.  It was a good day for all of us.

Outside children were playing but she chose to stay inside and spent most time knitting a "noken" or a handmade bag

It would take weeks or months to make this handmade bag or "noken." Papuans use them to carry vegetables to the market and even their child.  It is quite strong to handle the heavy load. 

Mina knitting in her room. I asked her if she could make me a bag and she nodded and asked me which colors I wanted.
Mina is currently doing really well in her recovery.  She is taking her medication regularly and eating nutritious food everyday.  She is a lot more talkative and opened up a bit more.  We hope that she could start AntiRetroviral Treatment soon.

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