Children Orphaned by AIDS Find Family in School
By Judith Santiago*
December 01, 2009—Maurine, 16 and Albert 15, half brother and sister from western Kenya, have lived on their own for two years. They lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, a disease that kills more than 33 million people worldwide.
With grant support from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund to the North United Methodist Church in Indiana and the Global Interfaith Partnership, a coalition of diverse faith organizations, students like Maurine and Albert can stay in school through the Umoja Project in Maseno Division, Kisumu District, Kenya.
As World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, is observed, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) asks supporters to be mindful of the vulnerable children everywhere who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. An estimated 13.1 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents to AIDS in 2008, according to a UNAIDS 2009 report. United Methodists are encouraged to continue the fight against this deadly virus by responding compassionately to widows, children or elderly persons whose lives are indelibly marked with HIV/AIDS.
Forced to Grow Up
Children like Maurine and Albert, who have no family member to care for them, become heads of household. Without someone to provide love or tend to daily needs, their sense of family and belonging are also taken away from them. Many vulnerable children learn to do what they can to emotionally cope with their trauma and survive on their own.
Education is sacrificed when children who lose one parent have to take the responsibility of housework, while looking after younger siblings, or an ill or dying parent. They are immediately forced to grow up and find work to support themselves and their families. Young girls become vulnerable to early sexual activity and HIV exposure and unwanted pregnancy— placing their lives and their futures at risk. In Kenya, young women between 15 and 19 years of age are three times more likely to be infected with the HIV virus than their male counterparts, according to a UN AIDS 2009 report.
Through the support of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, Maurine and Albert have been able to continue their schooling. Albert just completed his first year of high school at the top of his class. He plans to get a university scholarship to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. Maurine, who just finished her second year of secondary school, plans to find a job that will allow her to travel and see the world beyond western Kenya.
“Young people like Maurine and Albert show the impact funds from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund can have in the midst of very challenging circumstances,” says Ellen Daniels-Howell, member of North UMC and Director of the Global Interfaith Partnership. “There are so many more children like them for whom a relatively small amount of financial support can make a world of difference.”
United in Mission
North United Methodist Church is one of 11 Jewish and Christian congregations in central Indiana collaborating with an interfaith coalition of congregations in rural western Kenya to form the Global Interfaith Partnership. Together, this innovative model of interfaith and cross-cultural cooperation responds to the multiple needs of orphans and vulnerable children through the Umoja Project (“unity” in KiSwahili). Working through a network of congregations, schools, women’s groups, and other health and social service organizations, the Umoja Project provides food security, uninterrupted education, safe housing, and healthy psychosocial development.
Peer Groups Bring Healing
Through the Umoja Project, students from 12 secondary schools participating in monthly support group meetings receive tuition support, uniforms, books, and school supplies. Older children and their caregivers receive psychosocial support. In support group meetings, the children learn about reproductive health including HIV/AIDS and prevention. They have the opportunity to share their experiences with others their own age. These meetings are part of the restoration and healing process to integrate the children back into a loving and embracing family and community environment
Education, a Gift of Hope and Family
Judith is a fourth-year secondary student. Several years ago, Judith‘s father died leaving her mother to care for four young children. Poverty and ongoing health problems made life difficult, but Judith’s family worked together to pull through the difficult times. When Judith’s older sister died, it caused Judith’s mother to grieve so intensely, that Judith wondered if her mother would survive the loss. Now the oldest child in the family, Judith feels the weight of responsibility for her mother and her two brothers.
In spite of her circumstances at home, Judith performs at the top of her class. In fact, she currently serves as the chair of the Umoja Scholars peer support group, which meets every month.
“To most of us, hope of seeing a bright future with good academic excellence was all gone,” writes Judith in a letter to the Umoja Project. “But you just appeared on time to renew both our hopes and dreams. We appreciate you for that. Umoja group has made us to come together and now we call ourselves Umoja Family. As a family we have a bright future, and helping those who might be in need of our help.”
The Umoja Project plays a crucial role in improving the prospects of children orphaned by AIDS, by securing their future through education, giving them higher self-esteem and a sense of family. They also gain a better understanding of HIV/AIDS with potentially life saving information.
How You Can Help
Observe World AIDS Day, Dec. 1 with your gifts to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345. Help vulnerable students like Maurine, Albert and Judith continue to do well in school and bring hope to children in need of family, care and support.