Their dreams, their future

2008-05-07 00:00

There are over 15 million children orphaned by Aids around the world and today is the seventh World Aids Orphans Day.

“Living in Pietermaritzburg we are in the epicentre of the pandemic,” says Neill Stevenson, project manager of the May’khethele Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Project run under the banner of the Children in Distress Network (Cindi).

“From the perspective of World Aids Orphans Day where we live is one of the hottest spots of the epidemic and children are the most vulnerable of all groups,” says Stevenson.

The May’khethele (meaning My Dreams — My Future) Programme was launched last October and the programme’s goal is to improve the health and psychosocial wellbeing, access to education, and economic status of 5 000 children in 10 high schools and six primary schools in the greater Edendale and Elandskop areas of Pietermaritzburg, who have been orphaned and made more vulnerable as a result of HIV/Aids.

“Since October last year 2 600 orphaned and vulnerable children have received these services,” says Stevenson, “which is 52% of this year’s target. The programme plans to double the number to 10 000 in the following year.”

In the high schools May’khethele runs two main programmes. “One dealing with HIV and Aids prevention looks at sexual reproductive health,” says Stevenson. “This includes information on puberty, sexually transmitted diseases, what is HIV and how you contract it. This information is designed to motivate the pupils to make positive choices for life.”

A life-skills programme enables children to make those positive choices. “You need knowledge to make the right choices,” says Stevenson, “you need to know your rights. These skills are taught during the life orientation period in schools.”

Stevenson emphasises the importance of knowing one’s HIV status. “If it’s negative you can choose to live responsibly and remain negative — either through abstinence or, if sexually active, by using condoms. If you test positive you can get the treatment you need.”

According to the Childrens’ Act, if a person is 12 years old or over he or she does not need parental consent for the HIV test and May’khethele provides transport to Project Gateway or Life Line in the city centre for those wanting to be tested. There they will receive pretest counselling. A nurse will provide a nutritional assessment and general body status plus advice on nutrition and where to get nutritional support and food parcels. “They will be given the test result and then follow up counselling on what to do if they are positive or negative,” says Stevenson.

May’khethele does follow-up visits to the children’s home environment to make sure they are getting support and also receiving their child support grant and the consequent exemption from school fees.

“If a child is receiving a child support grant he or she is automatically exempt from school fees,” says Stevenson. “But many orphaned and vulnerable children don’t know this; they don’t even know about the child support grants, so we assist them to get the grant and then apply for school fee exemption.”

There is worldwide agreement that orphaned and vulnerable children should be kept at school. “If they don’t complete their education it affects their whole future. Often children are living in already financially stressed households. They cannot afford uniforms and fees, so they don’t get educated. We work to keep them in the family and to assist families to remain economically viable.”

• See www.cindi.org.za

How it works:

The May’khethele Programme sees four Cindi members, LifeLine, Project Gateway, Sinani and Youth for Christ/KZN working together in a partnership funded by Pepfar (USAid: Presidents Emergency Programme For Aids Relief) to offer a comprehensive range of services. These include:

• the provision of voluntary counselling and testing;

• referral to clinics for immunisations, CD4 counts and antiretroviral therapy;

• gender sensitive life-skills training;

• HIV prevention education; • psychosocial care

• assistance in obtaining exemption from school fees;

• providing access to school uniforms and social grants;

• links to other nutritional interventions;

• accessing birth certificates and identity documents;

• succession planning and inheritance claims;

• removing children from abusive situations into safe places; and

• the placement of orphaned and vulnerable children within families.

Number of Aids orphans

• There are over 15 million children orphaned by Aids around the world.

• Well over 12 million Aids orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

• Experts believe that millions more orphans remain unaccounted for in India, China and Russia.

• At least 10 million more children will be orphans by Aids by 2010.

The impact

• In addition to the trauma of losing a parent, orphans are often subject to discrimination and are less likely to receive health care, education and other needed services.

• In HIV-affected households lacking community support, food consumption can drop by 40% putting children at risk of malnutrition and stunting.

• Impoverished and often without support to educate and protect them, orphans and vulnerable children face increased HIV infection.

• Orphans are often easy prey to many forms of exploitation: forced labour, prostitution and child soldiering.

Support for AIDS Orphans

• Fewer than one in 10 Aids orphans receives any external support.

• $4,6 billion is needed to implement a comprehensive response to Aids orphans and vulnerable children. Estimates suggest that less than $0,5 billion is currently being invested.

• Only three countries — the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland have earmarks providing at least 10% of HIV/Aids funding to orphans and vulnerable children. Yet experts believe that these promises and legislation are unfulfilled as they meander through government bureaucracy. — Internet.

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