World AIDS Day: The Christmas songs of Little Mario – by Francis Quamina Farrier

World AIDS Day – December 01:  – by Francis Quamina Farrier
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December 1 is observed internationally as World AIDS Day, and in this Feature Article, I share with you The Story of Little Mario who was born with AIDS and how he sang some Christmas songs on TV for thousands of viewers. 

The story began when, in my capacity as a Journalist attached to the VCT Evening News, I was on a tour of Linden in Region 10, with a Team from the Public Relations Department of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) headed by then head of the Department, Ms Deborah Carter, to the Bauxite town.   

The official tour was intended to be only to the NIS Office at McKenzie which is on the eastern bank of the Demerara River. As the official part of the tour was wrapping up, Ms Carter was informed of a little orphan boy who lived at Blueberry Hill at Christianburg,  one of the three Wards of Linden, located on the western bank of the Demerara river. She decided that the team will go across the river and visit with the little fellow who was being cared for by his aunt.

For all the members of the team, it was love at first sight. Little Mario wearing a Superman tee shirt, greeted us with the warmest smile you can imagine. His aunt who was probably in his mid-twenties, and his two older sisters, were also very welcoming. But Little Mario melted our hearts. There was a special charm about him. The young aunt who experienced the death of both her sister and brother-in-law, to AIDS, had the heavy responsibility of taking care of the three siblings.

The two sisters of Little Mario were not infected with the AIDS virus, no doubt because their parents became infected after their birth. Sadly, Little Mario was conceived after his parents became infected. At that time there was no preventative means of Mother to Child transmission. Both parents passed away when Little Mario was just about three years old. As such, his aunt was struggling with the care of the three orphan siblings and needed all the help she could receive.

The NIS Public Relations Officer, recognizing the situation took immediate action. She requested that all members of the visiting team go deep into their pockets and make a contribution for Little Mario and his two sisters. We all did as requested by Ms Carter. The total contribution was somewhat impressive. Before we left, a number of photographs were taken. The one published along with this article, was also published in the NIS calendar of the following year. Little Mario had become a celebrity.

However, I have to let you know that his celebrity status was so not only because he was a charming young AIDS victim whose image was displayed on the NIS calendar, but for another reason as well. Little Mario was a talented singer. He knew many religious and secular songs. Added to that, his two sisters would sing along with him as his back-up singers. Had there been a TV talent show “Guyana’s Got Talent” at that time, Little Mario with his two sisters would have been strong contenders for the First Prize. So I was drawn to visit with Little Mario on a number of occasions during his short life.

CHRISTMAS SONGS by LITTLE MARIO

One of my visits to Little Mario at Blueberry Hill, Christianburg, Linden, was at this very time of the year – World AIDS Day. On that particular visit, Little Mario, with his two sisters doing back-up, sang a number of Christmas songs which I recorded on-camera, and included clips in my TV News item on the VCT Evening News. I can tell you that I received many positive comments from viewers of that news item. Little Mario’s celebrity status was expanding far beyond Linden.

GIFTS for Little Mario from New York

Later the next year while on a visit to New York, I was in the office of New York State Senator John Sampson whose father is Guyanese. His secretary, Carol Bagot, also a Guyanese, took immediate action when I mentioned the story of Little Mario. Along with another colleague, Patricia Trim, who is the founder of the Tots and Teens organization, they went across the street to a store and bought a number of gifts for Little Mario which I took from Region 11 to Region 10 and delivered to my little AIDS afflicted ‘nephew’.

The news item which I produced for the VCT Evening News was split into two parts – the first part was in Brooklyn, New York showing me receiving the gifts from Ms Bagot and Ms Trim. The second part was at Blueberry Hill, Linden showing me handing over the gifts to Little Mario. I was serious about accountability and the viewers saw me handing over the items which I had been given by Ms Bagot and Ms Trim, to Little Mario. One of the items was baseball bat and ball. Little Mario was given the bat. I pitched underhand. He missed the first two times. On the third pitch he hit that ball so hard that he received a loud round of applause from everyone looking on.

One of the things which I always did in news items about Little Mario, was to have clips of me holding him in my arms.  That physical contact on display on television was inculcated in me when there was a  series of HIV and AIDS education programme from ARTISTES IN DIRECT SUPPORT – AIDS – a group founded by Margaret Lawrence, Desiree Edghill and the late Andre Subryan. So in every TV news item featuring Little Mario, I was seen holding the little fellow in my arms. I also put my arms around a grown AIDS victim when I did a news item from Manhattan, New York.

Bye-Bye Little Mario

Then came the day when I received the expected phone call informing me that Little Mario had died. Yes, I cried. But I was not the only one who cried for the passing of Little Mario. When I edited the TV News item about his passing, I commenced by giving the viewer the impression that it was just an up-date on the activities of the celebrity, Little Mario. The news item started with Little Mario and some up-dates. No mention was made that Little Mario had flown away to a better land I know.  In had Little Mario and his two sisters singing the first stanza of “Yes Jesus Loves Me”. Then came the second stanza which was the scene of a large group of children gathered around a small white coffin singing “Yes Jesus Loves Me”.  There was no need for me to mention that Little Mario, who had become such a TV star and young Guyanese celebrity, was now a shining star up in Heaven. It was one of the most unusual TV News items I have ever done.

The following day after the TV News item was aired, I received a phone call at the VCT studio. The deep male voice with a slight quiver at the other end of the line said, “Mr Farrier, I call to tell you. I’m a big, tough man. But that news item last night about Little Mario, made me cry. I’m not shame to tell you.”

Executive Director of Artistes in Direct Support, Desiree Edghill, related the support received from President of the USA, George Bush, with the fight against HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean, Guyana included. “The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding started in Guyana in 2005 under the Guyana HIV and AIDS Prevention and Reduction Project (GHARP) in which 18 NGOs participated and worked in all the Regions of Guyana.” It was a massive national effort to educate the Guyanese about the deadly disease. “The Project built the capacity of the NGOs in Programme and Financial Management as well” according to Ms. Edghill.

Today HIV and AIDS is on the wane and mother to child transmission is now almost gone. Little Mario is gone, but for myself and many others, he will always be remembered for his charm and talent and zest for life during his short time on earth.

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Then NIS PRO Deborah Carter, Little Mario and Farrier at Blueberry Hill, Linden

Carol Bagot who with her colleague Patricia Trim, sent a package of items for Little Mario. (Photo by Francis Q. Farrier)

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