Mary Veal has lived in Bucharest, Romania, helping AIDS patients for over 20 years. Mary had been a social worker in the United States working with poor and homeless populations, but she felt like there was something more she needed to do.
Almost by accident she learned about the AIDS epidemic among Romanian children. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu had ordered regular blood transfusions to strengthen the tens of thousands of orphans. Unfortunately, they didn’t know about single-use syringes and would reuse the same syringe from child to child.
Mary got in touch with a group of Irish volunteers who had started the first hospital that took in children who were HIV positive and moved to Bucharest.
One of her first assignments when she arrived was to sit with the small children while they died. Her immediate reaction was, “I can’t do this. There is nothing in my life that has trained me to do this.”
But despite her hesitations, she made it through that first day—and thousands more. The original plan of staying for a year grew into two decades. When asked about why she stayed so long, Mary says, “Sometimes when I have a bad day, I think, ‘I’m getting old. I shouldn’t be here. I’m miserable. My arthritis hurts.’ And then I think about these kids.”
Due to misunderstandings about HIV in Romania, all of Mary’s patients have to keep their health struggles a secret or risk losing their jobs and apartments. None of them were able to receive an education or job skills, so much of the work she does is providing medications, food, and clothing for them and their families to survive.
“I feel incredibly privileged that I have been able to do [this],” Mary said. “The returns, the thank yous, whether they are said or whether they are silent, are enough to keep you going for a long, long time.”
One of her favorite experiences is when an AIDS survivor has a new, healthy baby. Even though the parents know that their chance of having a long life are very slim, they get to celebrate the hope and new life that the new child represents—the hope of a new generation that will be HIV free.
To learn more about the partnership between LDS Charities and the hospital Mary Veal works with, visit ldscharities.org.
To learn about opportunities for you to serve locally and contribute to LDS Charities humanitarian projects, visit How Can I Help?