AIDS, Orphans, Beauty, Rebirth: Lessons From a ‘Blood Brother’

Steve Hoover is the director of a forthcoming documentary film, Blood Brother, which chronicles the transformation of his friend, Ohio native Rocky Braat. Disenchanted with his life in America, Braat finds meaning serving HIV-infected orphans halfway across the globe. Morgan Spurlock called Blood Brother, “A truly beautiful film about the power of love.”

Nothing could stop Rocky from moving to India, except maybe me. I wanted to stop him, but his pursuit was noble and bigger than our friendship. He and I are like brothers, not “bros” that like the same sports team, but brothers. When he moved to India, we embraced and wept…brothers.   

After he lived in the village for almost two years caring for HIV/AIDS orphans, I finally had the decency to go and visit him. Others had been quicker to respond to his invitations.

By this point, Rocky was more than a novice Indian.  He had his own concrete hut in the village with an electric bill in his name and an abundance of relationships around him.  He was speaking the language and showing me the ropes. “Don’t buy from that guy, he’s a swindler,” Rocky would explain as we walked through the markets. 

MORE: Traveling Artist Paints a Better Life for Orphans in Rwanda

Before going to visit Rocky, I had never knowingly met someone with HIV/AIDS. Not only that, but I didn’t really think much about the issue. I was never able to personally connect or internalize it.

I wasn’t prepared for the stigma that has branded the disease, and I found myself a coward in the face of it. Rocky seemed unfazed and right at home with HIV/AIDS. With him, there wasn’t a stigma. I knew it was love that had brought Rocky to this point.

Why did he love these kids so much?

I wasn’t interested in hiding behind my camera for a month; I would miss out on a world of change, so I had to push past my fears. 

It didn’t take long to learn why Rocky loved the kids so much. They have something that’s hard to describe—a kind of freedom that I don’t see in Western children.

Most of the kids in the HIV/AIDS hostel have already experienced the death of one or both of their parents and have been close to his or her own death. They had seen their peers die and spent more time in hospitals than most of us will ever see in a lifetime.  They had a maturity and understanding that these traumas bring about, coupled with an absolute innocence and love, which made for an incredible human being.

They were easy to love.

“Leaving India, I knew I couldn’t ignore the issue or forget the kids. I only intended the film to tell a story, but it’s become a vehicle for aid and relief.”

Rocky doesn’t just love the kids; he’s dedicated to them. He sacrifices for them. He left his life for theirs.

Seeing that love in action became my bridge to compassion. HIV/AIDS is no longer just an idea; it now has names and faces. Before he moved to India, Rocky knew what he was going up against.

“What can I do, just pretend it’s not there?” he said regarding the kids suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Leaving India, I knew I couldn’t ignore the issue or forget the kids.    

And I haven’t. I can’t stop thinking about them. Rocky and the kids were my fuel for Blood Brother. It’s an amazing feeling, realizing that I can help and be a part of something wonderful.

I knew I couldn’t move there; I don’t have what Rocky has. But I have been given gifts and resources that would be wasted if only used to push products and acquire more comfort or pleasures. 

I am happy to say that Blood Brother was produced through the generosity of many people. Thanks to all of this support and efforts, the film can be used to financially benefit Rocky and the kids as well as others suffering from HIV/AIDS.

I only intended the film to tell a story, but it’s become a vehicle for aid and relief.

Where is the most unexpected place you have found fulfillment? Leave the transformations in COMMENTS.

Related Stories on TakePart:

15-Year-Old Child Advocate Empowers Orphans in India

A Real-Life Dreamcatcher: One Woman Builds a Camp for Kids With HIV/AIDS

Mexican Drug War Orphans 10,000 Children in One Year

Steve Hoover lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has directed more than 60 music videos, including “Fireflies” from Owl City, for which he received a platinum record. His work has amassed more than 100 million YouTube views. He is now a director at Animal, a production and VFX house. Blood Brother is Steve’s first feature film. @bloodbrotherdoc | Official Blood Brother Site