By Sean V. Lehosit
An eighth of all pregnant women in Honduras are HIV positive, according to Erika Castro, Montana de Luz (MDL) executive director.
Castro, a Westside resident of 12 years, visits the impoverished country about every three months to assist the growing number of children living with HIV and AIDS.
MDL started in 1999 as a hospice for children dying from the disease, but has evolved into a social support group for the youth as they grow.
The MDL is located almost two hours from the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and down the road from a large orphanage. Tucked away from the drug trafficking and violence in the north, Castro said volunteers have created a safe and supportive community.
“Our purpose at the time was to provide palliative care to the children and for them to know they were children of God and loved. There is tremendous discrimination and fear around HIV/AIDS in Honduras and many of the children were severely abused and neglected when they came to us,” She said.
Caregivers were frightened they would contract the virus, according to Castro. Children were fed on the floor like dogs, or found in deplorable living conditions – covered in wounds and lice.
“Today, thanks to the availability of anti-retroviral medications (ARV), the children are no longer dying of AIDS. We have become a home for children affected,” Castro said.
As the children age, they work on developing life skills so they can live independently, she said, enabling them to enroll in vocational training.
At one time these kids faced a death sentence, but through education and medical improvements, they have a shot at living fuller and normal lives.
“Everyone who visits Montana de Luz comes away profoundly affected that children who have experienced so much loss, face a life long illness are so full of life and love,” Castro said.
Prenatal care with ARV’s is more available to pregnant women now, decreasing the chance of passing HIV to their children.
Due to a lack of educational and medical resources, though, discrimination is still a problem, Castro said. Honduras is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere.
“In Latin America there are 1.5 million people living with HIV. In Honduras the challenges are fear and ignorance about prevention and treatment, discrimination and most of all lack of resources both personal as well as in the community,” Castro said.
In November, non-profit officials will launch its “God’s Gift Campaign,” which will sponsor medical care, education and food for the children at MDL. The group will match 100 sponsors in 100 days – the cost is $30 per month to sponsor a child.
“The sponsorship program is our most sustainable means of support and allows us to commit to caring for even more children affected by HIV/AIDS. We would like to open our doors and hearts to six more children this year,” Castro said.
For information on how to volunteer or donate, visit www.montanadeluz.org.