Friday, November 4, 2011

AIDS and the children of Africa

Most of us are busy with the season of Christmas, baking, shopping, wrapping, card writing, caught up in the wonder of giving and receiving. Christmas is a joyous and wondrous time for most that live amidst abundance of the West. Most of us have healthy children, have good jobs, have homes, food for the table and enough left over to give generous gifts to family and friends

This is the season where my thoughts and heart turns to the children of Africa, for many of whom will be the first Christmas without mom and dad. Thousands of Africa’s AIDS orphans are fending for themselves this Christmas. Children who are living in a survival mode without hope for the future.

The extended African family that used to take care of orphans has broken down due to the plague of AIDS that is ravaging the lands, reaping a harvest of fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters with no end in sight. The projections are for 20 million orphans due to AIDS related deaths. Only one country in sub-Sahara will have less AIDS related orphans in 2010 than now and that is Uganda, all other countries will have dramatic increases since most of them are late in putting together a program that will make a difference in their society as Uganda has.

Numbers are one thing, we see statistics and often do not stop to think that behind the numbers, behind the statistics, are living beings that are now on their own. Children who lack most everything, deprived of hope, deprived of family, unable to live out a meaningful existence unless help comes fast but it takes years to reverse the present trends of AIDS infection and this Christmas there are no thoughts of Santa, of Christmas, of gifts and giving, of receiving, there is only thought in the mind of boys and girls orphaned by AIDS…”living another day without dying.”

One in 10 sub-Sahara African children are orphaned at the present time. Orphan rates that are over 5% mean that the local community, the family, extended family units are unable to help due to the overwhelming numbers. As we approach Christmas 2003, the question of the hour is, “how do these children cope with their losses, how do their cities and countries deal with the sheer numbers that are there. The answer is a sad one, “these children become living dead who wander the streets of the cities of Africa looking for a handout, looking for some work, looking with bellies empty, bodies sick due to malnutrition, minds empty except for the worries that are there, many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress related to their losses. They are not likely to attend school (but does not take into consideration school clothing, transport, lunches), they will try to work for someone and often will be exploited, in some African cities 2/3rds of the child prostitutes are AIDS orphans. Not aAids and the Children of Africa future to look forward to for a newly orphaned child. Often these orphans will be separated from their siblings, and of course these orphans will grow up without learning parenting skills from Mom and Dad, and their future as adults is bleak to say the least it will continue to be a mere existence.

Church groups, Mosques, Non Governmental Agencies are busily working in attempting to find solutions for this problem; a problem that translates into billions of dollars annually, 4 billion each year is the estimate from Columbia University. Some talk of building thousands of orphanages across Africa. Noble thoughts, but unrealistic since the need will exceed the capacity such homes provide. The only practical solution for the present and future situation is to enlist thousands of African families into providing foster care for such orphans. Giving them the money needed for the basics for that child or children and allowing these orphans to grow up in a family structure where they car relate, make a home and find the reasonable security and peace so necessary during the growing up years. (Some agencies are doing just that presently and it was something that I advocated whole heartedly during my time in Africa)

Some years back, I came across the woman in a slum with two little children. She was dying of AIDS, her husband had already died and the extended family was broken down due to the AIDS plague. She looked to me and told me “No one cares, my children will have no mother, no father, no one cares. The church cannot help, the government does not help, my neighbors cannot help, and no one cares.” Those words have haunted me and at times I can recall that conversations ever so clearly. She is long gone, her children are a bit older now, there are new orphans that have come along and the words are still true today “No one cares.” This Christmas, think about that statement; ask yourself, how can I make a difference in the life on one child? This Christmas the question to us who live in the prosperous West, “Do I care?