Right around the world, today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.
Fifteen years ago, HIV/AIDS became relevant to my life.
When I was just ten years old, and we had only just moved to Cambodia – my parents were asked by a mother, dying of complications from AIDS, to care for her two year old daughter, when she no longer could.
A few weeks later, I had a little sister.
Ning Rua and I were kindred spirits and siblings from the get go. From day one, we were a team to be reckoned with.
It’s hard to write about now because the more time passes, the more I forget, and the more I forget, the more I fear I am losing what little I have left of my little sidekick.
My little sister was the type of person who was going to change the world – who did change the world.
Her time here on earth may have been brief and constricted but her influence was anything but.
I remember the day we found out she was HIV positive.
My mum called me after she got the blood test results back. She didn’t have to tell me. I could hear it in her voice.
I was never scared being around Ning Rua. I was never concerned for our safety.
I was only ever enraged that she had been left the victim of her father’s foolish choices. I was only ever fearful of what she would have to go through once the virus took a hold of her little body.
When Ning Rua was around four or five, we were watching a news report on HIV/AIDS when the harsh reality began to sink in. She had begun to develop sores similar to those playing before me on the TV screen on the bodies of AIDS patients in Africa.
It was here I realized that Ning Rua was getting sick.
And what’s worse is that I sat there knowing that there was nothing we would be able to do for her medically.
My little sister was possibly the bravest person I’ll ever know.
Even in her pain, she looked beyond herself, to love and care for those around her. And to make the world just a little bit brighter.
Today, she would be 17.
On a Sunday afternoon in December 2001, I sat in the car, holding my semi-conscious little sister.
Over the previous months, her immune system had been fighting an internal battle and even the slightest infection or illness, had withered her body from a vibrant young child to a lifeless corpse.
I knew every moment from here on out was borrowed time.
As we sat there, I told my precious little sister that I loved her. And she told me she loved me too.
And that was it.
That evening she took her last breath and was with us no longer.
All that to say that my sister was not a statistic.
She was a real person with hopes and dreams and who loved nothing more than chowing down on a good old chicken drumstick.
While medicine and education have made a huge impact on the current state of HIV/AIDS around the globe, it is still very real and very much a part of many people’s realities.
My little sister and her mum are just two stories out of millions.
This is in memory of them.