“Death, come and save me.” These are the words of Waris, a 13-year-old boy who was totally devastated by tuberculosis. Thanks to a successful treatment, carefully monitored by Damien Foundation, Waris is now cured and a week ago he even started attending school again. Waris is the boy who didn't want to die.
“Waris, why are you breathing so fast? Have you been running? Have you played football at school?” Waris looks up at his uncle with his big innocent eyes, bows his head and then nods in agreement. “You still need to take things a bit easy, young boy. You have just recovered from an illness.”
Muda (64) remains concerned for his nephew. Because he knows exactly how serious it was. “Waris is an orphan, he was my younger brother's son. Normally, he lives with his aunt, but one day they brought him to me. He was very sick and we didn't know what to do. A traditional doctor suggested prescribed some medicine, but Waris just kept coughing. His condition continued to deteriorate
“I had a lot of pain in my chest and was very weak. I could no longer even sit up or walk. I said so often ‘Death, come and save me’ that this became my nickname in the neighbourhood. A community worker advised them to go to the tuberculosis clinic. “On the way to the hospital, Waris suddenly collapsed, I had to carry him”, said Muda.
The treatment took effect immediately and Waris started getting better week by week. During this time, he shared a tiny room with his uncle: he slept on the mat, his uncle in the bed. The room is located in a house occupied by three more families. They cook in the passageway, but sometimes they can’t cook because there isn’t any food. “Things aren’t so bad here”, says Waris. “At my aunt's house, there’s even less food.”
Waris is very small for his age and his scalp is infected: signs of malnutrition. “Malnutrition and tuberculosis often go hand in hand”, says Atere Oyebamiji of Damien Foundation. She is the one who has closely monitored the boy throughout the treatment. “Since the immune system of malnourished children is much weaker.”
Tuberculosis is a disease of poverty and many patients would simply be unable to pay for their treatment without the help Damien Foundation provides. “Waris' treatment costs one and a half dollars a day, while I only earn 6 dollars a month, 2 dollars of which are used to pay the rent for my room. I am a car mechanic but due to a stroke, I can no longer use my arm properly. So I cannot work a lot.”
The fact that Waris is cured is considered a miracle by many and he now has a new nickname: the boy who didn't want to die. Waris still tires very easily sometimes, but his eyes betray an indomitable zest for life, especially now that he can go back to school again. He feels bad that he had to repeat a school year because of his illness, while his friends are already off to secondary school. But Waris is determined to catch up. After all, his wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. “They wear such beautiful clothes”, he whispers. “I want to do that too.”
TEXTS: Wendy Huyghe
PHOTOS: Tim Dirven @T.Dirven for Damien Foundation