Stephanie’s Story: CHF in Honduras Helping People Living with HIV Thrive

By Danielle Duran Baron, Senior Communications Specialist

Stephanie and her children

Looking at Stephanie’s* eyes one can see she has lived a lot more than her 24 years may suggest. A mother of two, she usually helps her husband at their stand in the popular market of Tegucigalpa, but today she is home with her two children, seven-year-old Pablo*and four-year-old Jenny*. The children are at home early in the day because public school teachers are on strike in Honduras. Their father is at work, rebuilding his stand in the local market, destroyed by the storm that hit the city a few months ago. “The whole market was washed away,” Stephanie explains, “now all the vendors got a loan to rebuild it and make it better. We are using bricks and mortar instead of wood to build our stand,” she adds. Part of the agreement is that each vendor helps with labor in the construction efforts. “We lost our only source of income, our livelihood, so now we want to have it ready as soon as possible. I usually help out when the kids are at school, but now that neither of us can work, things have become really tough,” she says.

Stephanie, 24, and her husband, 28, met twelve years ago, when he came to live with her mother and stepfather. They have been together ever since. Their first child was born when Stephanie was only 15, but he died shortly after of a heart condition. Two years later, she had Pablo and at 19, she found out she was pregnant with Jenny. The pregnancy went relatively well, but she started bleeding heavily shortly after and months later she was taken to the hospital. After a series of tests, Stephanie heard the news that would change her life forever: she was HIV positive. (Her husband also tested positive after her diagnosis, while her children, fortunately, do not have the virus.) After speaking to doctors and psychologists, she started treatment immediately.

In many cases, when the mother receives the HIV diagnosis during pregnancy, she also receives prophylactic treatment and counseling, which drastically decrease the risk of transmission of the virus to the child. She also heard about Caminando con Niños (Walking with Children), an organization that partners with CHF International-Honduras to help children and families affected by HIV.

Stephanie and her family are part of the 175 families and 1,129 individuals assisted by the program, 570 of them are under the age of 18 and 37 are HIV-positive, others are orphan children and families affected by HIV. Among those assisted by the foundation, 16% (220 people) are HIV-positive, and 84% (909 people) are HIV-negative. Of those who are HIV-positive, 37 are under the age of 18 and 183 are adults.

In May 2008, CHF became the Principal Recipient for the Global Fund for Aids, TB and Malaria in Honduras, attaining a national and regional profile in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care through the implementation of a grants management program. CHF is closely working with Honduras’s public sector, including the Secretary of Health and civil society organizations, such as Caminando con Niños to address HIV.

In addition to a monthly supply of food, Caminando con Niños and CHF offer Stephanie and her children vitamins and other medicines that are not available at the hospital where she gets treated, but it is the one on one interaction with social worker Jessica Flores and educator Andy Garcia that she cherishes the most. “Because we have seen that other people went through, we have decided not to share our diagnosis with anyone else. We don’t like the idea of support groups because our number one concern is our privacy, so before we started working with CHF and Caminando con Niños, we never even spoke about ‘it’,” she tells me, teary-eyed. “Now my husband and I talk about the issue, we discuss the literature that they leave with us. My husband even participates in our chats; he feels he can trust them. He’s changed and I can see that.”

Stephanie says she has struggled with depression before, but the visits of the social workers have helped her feel less isolated. During their bi-weekly meetings, they can talk freely about the issues that affect them, from specific medications to a healthy soy recipe. “I feel that they care and I understand my children need me, so I need to be healthy and strong for them too.” Despite the many problems faced by his family, Pablo is a straight-A student on a scholarship and the family receives some help from CHF and Caminando con Niños to buy his school supplies and uniforms. The social workers also monitor his performance and are constantly in touch with his teachers and principal to make sure he is doing well, which brings Stephanie much needed relief and pride.

Now that she is healthy, the young mother plans on going back to work as soon as the market reopens and has some goals for her future. “I want a better life for my family. My husband and I have a strong and happy relationship, our kids are healthy, and we are doing well. I would like to continue my studies and maybe even get a college degree.”

* Names have been changed to respect their privacy.