A Discussion with Sister Teresa Palakudy, Chief Nurse, Nyumbani Home, Nairobi, Kenya

With: Teresa Palakudy Berkley Center Profile

June 11, 2016

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice fellowship project, undergraduate student Khaliyah Legette interviewed Sister Teresa Palakudy, the chief nurse of the Nyumbani Children's Home in Nairobi, Kenya. In this interview, conducted in June 2016, she discusses the challenges and changes she has seen in her work with HIV positive children at the Nyumbani Home.
Can you please state your name and title?

Sister Teresa Palakudy. I’m the matron and chief nurse of the Nyumbani Home.

What are your responsibilities in this position?

I coordinate the medical staff, such as nurses and doctors, and ensure that the children are healthy and that their medicines are taken care of.

How has HIV/AIDS impacted the community, Nairobi, and Kenya in general?

Earlier, when we started working with HIV positive children, the stigma was very high, so the people were abandoning their children. But now, that is not the case. Now, the children are at least accepted, but there is still stigma present inside the communities. Parents may not even want to bring their own kids in for treatment when they are in need of care, because they would rather hide their child’s condition. So the community healthcare workers have to go into communities and find children who are HIV positive, but hidden because of the stigma.

What is the children’s understanding of their condition?

Here, we start disclosure programs when the children can understand their condition. According to the explanation they are given, they have a virus. First, they grow up with our disclosure programs as a group or individual. Like the teenagers or preteens, we bring them together and talk to them, especially when there is a problem with taking medicine or in other behaviors. It’s also in the curriculum, so they learn about HIV in their schools. Many students are in the public schools, where the message “HIV/AIDS kills” is written, which can affect them negatively because this negative message gets into their minds.

What are some of the successes of working with these children?

We have seen tremendous improvement in the lives of the children. They are no longer defined as sick children, but they are just happy and healthy children, and they are able to enjoy normal life. We don’t have to worry about their future as much, because we have also seen many children finish here and move away, and they are off living normal lives.

What are some of the challenges that remain?

Adolescent children are sometimes difficult to work with. When they start the program, they may decide to stop taking the medicines they are supposed to take. It really takes time to make them understand that they need to take their medicines, and that unless they take medicines, their health will be compromised. Sometimes it is not easy to make them understand this.

How—if at all—do you see Catholic faith playing a role in the treatment of these children?

We start teaching them the catechism of the Catholic Church very early on. We give them faith in God as soon as they come in to Nyumbani. This is seen in each house; the house moms have their prayers, and the children begin attending Masses. So, we teach them the faith, and we prepare them for the sacraments. We give them about Catholicism so that it will help them when they are in trouble outside. We want them to be able to go to church and find God in their lives.

What is the most rewarding part of your position?

When I first came here, it was not like this. I have seen children die in the earlier days when there was no medicine, and Nyumbani’s work was to slowly prepare them to die. It was not easy. With the arrival of anti-retroviral medicines, I have seen the positive change in the health and progress of HIV positive children, and now it is like we are working with normal children. And they are here because they don’t have anywhere else to go, so we are helping them get an education and have a normal life so they can then go out and live their life independently. So that gives me joy.

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