Gan Sabra Community Project: Hope In The Hills

By: Ronne Rock, Marketing Coordinator at Orphan Outreach

*This story was originally posted on August 27, 2015

An unfinished brick warehouse sits precariously above the colorful neighborhood streets carved into the mountainous jungle landscape of the Aizawl district of Mizoram, India. Inside, separated only by splintered wood and worn curtains, five families live and work. All are refugees who have escaped the human rights atrocities of Burma, and all now sit for hours each day at large looms, weaving traditional Mizo fabrics sold by vendors at market. Water is available from a nearby stream, and a few bare light bulbs struggle to illuminate a building that offers little in the way of creature comforts. For Liana and Haemi, a husband and wife with three young boys, this week is a better week. "We have some fresh vegetables from a garden I planted on the hill," he says with the hint of a smile. And this week, they have sold a good amount of their hand-loomed fabric. The couple fled Burma in 2011 to find sanctuary. Shortly after finding their home in Aizawl, both battled constant sickness. They finally went to a doctor, and both tested positive for HIV.

A few miles away, in a hut perched on stilts and crafted of timber and corrugated tin, Lalsangsawti cares for her children. The youngest is having complications with the medicine he is receiving for tuberculosis,  and the oldest has severe developmental delays which prevent him from attending school. The middle child, a bright young boy with great potential for learning, has chosen to rebel. The single mother raising three boys wonders about their future, and prays God will give her many more years to make sure they are cared for well. But her health is frail. Before her husband died in 2002, he infected her with HIV. And last year, she was dealt another blow when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Despite her illness, she remains faithful to her job. The love of her sons gives her strength as she walks up to two hours each way to an employer nearer the city's center.

Both families have become part of a larger community, thanks to the determination of a former nun named Lucy who believes everyone in Aizawl is worthy of great love and care - especially those who are HIV+. The founder of Gan Sabra HIV home for children, Lucy can often be found educating government leaders, educators, and families about the reality and the myths of HIV. "My perspective has changed so much over time," Lucy shares. "I remember one of the boys in the home asking, 'When someone has HIV, do they get boils all over their head?' I answered, 'Yes, that is something that can happen.' He began to cry. 'I remember now, my mother had boils even in her hair. No one would help her treat them. My relatives would stare at her through the window. No one would care for us.' I use to have pity but I didn't understand fully the pain. Now I walk the road of pain, and I am seeing healing."

In partnership with Orphan Outreach, Lucy and Gan Sabra now provide sponsorships for 23 families affected by HIV. For Lalsangsawti and her sons, sponsorship includes cancer treatment, food, the care of a social worker, and educational support for her sons. Her eyes glisten with tears as she shares, "Without the support from Orphan Outreach, there would be no hope." And for Liana and Haemi, the sponsorship has been a life-saving one for their boys. "We receive educational support and food, and because Lucy helped us when my wife was pregnant to make wise decisions, our young sons have tested negative for HIV." The formula program is cause for celebration to Lucy. "I believe we can reduce the mother to infant transmission rate to 0. And I believe our formula program can be done in other states in India as well."

The impact of the Gan Sabra community program has proven to be eternal as well. As Laemi tucks his youngest son in for a nap in the bed the family shares in the unfinished warehouse, he considers the value of what his family has been given. "We may live in poverty, but we are at peace. And that peace is enough." And in the timber and tin hut, Lalsangsawti beams at Lucy as she reflects on what she's learned through the Christ-centered care she's received. "When my kids are happy with each other, I am happy. And now, I am happy in God. I call on Him and He is with me. I have joy inside. I have joy."

Sometimes orphan care isn't about an orphanage at all. Sometimes it's about helping children stay in homes with families who are struggling. The Gan Sabra community program in India does just that.You can be a sponsor now, which covers support of the family by a social worker as well as food, educational support, and medicines not covered by the government.

Families are more than blood. Be family today. Sponsor a child.

Learn more about Orphan Outreach here.