A mother’s story: Being positive about HIV

By Elayna Fernandez

She kept saying “I’m so grateful,” and she couldn’t stop smiling. I was instantly inspired by her sense of pride and the light that radiated through her beautiful brown eyes.

I think it is no accident that her name, Milagros, means “miracles.” That’s what you experience in her presence.

I couldn’t help but stare at her and just soak it all in. She is a loving mom, an entrepreneur, and an inspiration to many.

A smiling Milagros at home.

By now you may be wondering: who is this woman and what makes her so happy? I’ll answer the second question with a simple word I’m a big fan of: perspective.

In Philippians 4:11, we read this statement from Paul: “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

I find this verse exquisitely brilliant.

To refresh your memory, Paul was in a yucky state that not everyone would be content to be in. He wrote this verse from prison. Now, I don’t know Paul personally and didn’t read this in the original language, but I can assure you I’ve learned a powerful lesson from this very short sentence: you may not necessarily be grateful for the prisons in your life, but you can choose to be grateful for whatever else is happening, while in the prison, through the power of perspective.

Well, back to Milagros. She’s not in prison per se, but for over six years, she’s found herself in a condition she never thought she’d be in. I was in awe of Milagros as she told her story: she had a near-death experience while giving birth to her son Genesis, and she thought she almost lost him. Whew! The tales of the past can be an emotional experience for both the storyteller and the story hearer.

But, wait. Behind Milagros’s perfect smile, sparkly eyes, and passionate gratitude, and beyond her survival is the condition that is very much present right now, as you read, and will continue to be present in her life: she’s positive … HIV positive.

So you asked, who is this woman? Well, yeah, I assumed you asked. And here’s my heartfelt answer: she’s a brave single mother of seven kids, living with HIV in a stigma-filled community, providing for her family by selling homemade bread at the local market. She’s also the go-to person for anyone who is diagnosed with HIV, because she’s turned her pain into a passion to help others understand that they can lead a healthy, meaningful life despite the disease.

Why is Milagros so grateful? I can’t possibly recall all the reasons. I was too caught up in the moment, and too in love with her kids, and it’s been a long day. She had a long list. I’m serious.

Do you have a long gratitude list? Is it so long that it would overwhelm people? Especially people that seem to have more than you do?

While you think on that (I did for a long while today while riding the bus around some impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic), let me share what I remember:

  • She’s grateful to God because she can be alive to raise her kids.
  • She’s grateful because she can be a loving, caring mom.
  • She’s grateful because she has had the support of World Vision (Vision Mundial, in Spanish), through her son’s birth, her diagnosis, and the roller coaster of emotions and challenges that come with it.

World Vision is the organisation that invited me to live this incredible experience in my homeland. Most of her kids are sponsored through World Vision, they provided her with small business training, and they even built her house for her.

Perspective is how you view something. It has a Latin root meaning look through or “perceive.” It means going broader and going deeper, to find the good in every condition we may find ourselves in.

Perspective can help us find JOY in the JOurneY.

You may find pain, poverty, and pestilence along the way, but if—when—you take a closer look, you will see HOPE, JOY, and LOVE shining bright.

Perspective doesn’t get you out of prison, yet it arms you with the awareness that, though it may sound or seem unreasonable, there’s actually a way out.

What actions can you take to help someone? Sponsoring a child may sound like too easy or little of a solution. RM65 may sound like too crazy of a “price.” [Insert your perspective] And you may be sceptical about it. And I would be, too.

Except that I’m not.

Meeting Milagros’ children today reminded me vividly of my own childhood. Things like safe drinking water, proper nutrition, basic sanitation, decent clothing, access to healthcare, and good education were often considered a luxury. And sometimes being poor also meant feeling judged and lonely, and suffering the anxiety of lack and apparent doom.

Milagros with her four sons at their home.

Meeting Milagros’ children, and other children that are sponsored through World Vision, also reminded my heart of what child sponsorship can make possible. One of my siblings had a sponsor in the USA, and that afforded a different set of possibilities for that child, while improving the situation and condition for our family as a whole.

And for Milagros? Her positive story is possible today because her children were part of World Vision’s sponsorship program. Their staff make regular visits to every family involved in those programs, and when they do they evaluate each family’s situation and needs. That’s how they discovered her condition in the first place.

When I was packing for my Dominican Republic trip as a World Vision Blogger, I found an old fortune from a few months ago. It read: Your happy heart will bring joy and peace to those in need.”

That is my prayer. Is it yours? If like me, you pray for a world in which children can break free from the prison of deprivation, where they have access to safe drinking water, nutritious food, empowering education, protective clothing, quality healthcare, and secure shelter, and the chance at a brighter future, I invite you to explore child sponsorship and take compassionate action.

I am living proof that your gift can bless a child, a family, and a community at large.

And as I think of Milagros’ gratitude and joy, I wouldn’t want to mislead you. These don’t just come from perspective. She’s become a mentor and an instrument of hope. She’s an inspiration to her six natural children, and an angel to the little one she rescued when his mom died from giving birth.

She’s an example to me of how perspective makes you positive in any circumstance therewith. She’s also a testament that God blesses a cheerful giver, and a grateful receiver who gives back.

This story was featured on worldvision.org