Birth of After The Fall: HIV Grows Up
A letter from Creator / Executive Producer Kathleen Treat’s story.
In 1997, World Vision approached me with a request for funding. Several projects were proposed, but only one stuck out to me. It was a proposal to support a kid’s club in Romania for children who were infected with HIV in the hospitals and institutions in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The program, started by Venera Batescu, was aimed at providing a safe place for the kids to socialize. They would do crafts together and have outings to the Black Sea or the mountains.
I had been interested and involved in the HIV pandemic for many years already. It was clear to me from the first mention that I would be supporting this project. We assumed, in those early days, that the kid’s camp would have a definitive timeline. The children were not expected to live more than 10 years. This was a program that increased the quality of life for these kids while they were still here. There were no long-term goals, no projected outcomes, no strategic initiatives.
I remember visiting Romania for the first time in the fall of 1999. I met Venera at the World Vision office. I met Dr. Matusa in the hospital. The AIDS ward was packed. Dr. Matusa supervised the children, had school lessons, and fed them all. It was not a hospital—it was a home for these kids. I vividly remember one boy on the brink of death. He was lying on a bench in the schoolroom so that he could be close to his friends. He did not want to die alone in his room.
We visited families and went on field trips with several of the kids. In those days, the parents did not tell the children they were ill. In most families, only one child was infected. It would be the one child that was born into the window of time when contaminated blood was given in hospitals, or had the bad luck of getting a cold during that time, that contracted the disease. We were not allowed to speak of it. The families did not want any of the children to know. It seemed, at that time, to be less about stigma from the outside, and more about letting the child have a stress free life in his short time on earth.
I returned in the fall of 2006. In those intervening years, ARV drugs became widely available in Romania. Though many children died, many more were living.
There were several things during the visit that made a great impact on me and led directly to the making of the documentary. The first: the children were now young adults.
The second: not only did they finally KNOW about their disease—they were becoming advocates and activists. They were going on radio shows, passing out safe-sex information on the beaches, speaking with government officials.
I left that trip with one image— a megaphone. I wanted to be a megaphone so that a larger audience could hear this message—the one that they, themselves, were telling—, perhaps even the world. This is where the idea of a documentary first came to be.
It took two years after those first thoughts for the filming trip. There were so many issues to deal with—confidentiality being chief among them. But filming did happen, and other trips followed before completion of the documentary.
I continue to support these youth in Romania, though the kid’s club has grown and evolved to include scholarships, vocational training, and other assistance. We could never have imagined, back in 1997, just how strategic the kids club program would be. Through the heroic dedication of Venera, Dr. Matusa, and the countless other people that give their time and energy to these young adults, a generation is alive and paving the way for other HIV infected youth to be able to dream of full, productive lives.
Sincerely, Kathleen Treat, Creator/Executive Producer