Community of Hope
By Judith Santiago**
March 15, 2010—Asha*, 10, and her brother Kosey*, 8, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), were orphaned when their parents were killed in DRC’s ongoing civil war. Displaced from their homes because of intense fighting, Asha is confused and afraid, as she watched over her younger brother, and decided to stay alongside the river.
For three long days, Asha and Kosey waited to be found. A displaced woman named Angie* heard Asha and Kosey crying and after hearing their story, she was moved to take them under her care. Arriving in rural Kasungami, southeast of the city of Lubumbashi, Angie shared the children’s story with the pastor of the Nazareth United Methodist Church-South Congo Conference. The children were sent to Child Action Initiative where those orphaned by war or HIV/AIDS are cared for and raised.
Child Action Initiative, supported by a United Methodist Global AIDS Fund grant through the health unit of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), offers children like Asha and Kosey a community of hope and a place of refuge. The children were placed with the project’s foster families, and received counseling and training on self care, while they were lovingly nurtured back to physical and emotional health.
The Child Action Initiative program serves about 50 children who receive nutritious meals and one-on-one spiritual and emotional counseling. Tuition support, school uniforms, shoes, and all the materials they need to attend school and settle into a normal life are provided with assistance from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. The children are placed in suitable primary schools and each child’s development is closely monitored.
“I have experienced God’s love and blessings because these children are going to school,” said Angie. “They will gain skills that will enable them to contribute to their own lives.”
While Angie was not in a position to adopt Asha and Kosey, she is secure in knowing that these children will not end up in the street, vulnerable to crime, gangs or violence.
Kasungami, a region where the incidence of contracting HIV/AIDS is high, is a densely populated squatter settlement and home to hundreds of internally displaced people who fled during the civil war, or moved there in hopes of finding work. About 800,000 children in DRC are orphaned by war, half of whom are children affected by HIV/AIDS. The disease poses a threat to human dignity, family life and community development, as children are left to fend for themselves after losing their parents.
Some children are accused of witchcraft or blamed for their families’ misfortune, and are often isolated from their community. Since they cannot afford to go to school, many children end up risking their lives by engaging in prostitution or taking on dangerous mining jobs to earn a meager living. Others experience psychological trauma and attempt suicide because of life pressures.
Help to Overcome Life Challenges
Every child that comes through Child Action Initiative comes with a different set of social and physical problems. The program is helping vulnerable children overcome their trauma by providing emotional and spiritual counseling sessions, as well as much-needed individual attention. The children meet once a month for a spiritual orientation, where those coping with the loss of their parent can find healing, love and support.
The counseling sessions also address AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. Through quizzes, games and drama activities, the children learn how the HIV virus is transmitted from one person to another. The sessions play a key role in the positive development and behavioral change of each child coming for assistance. Eventually the children learn how to cope with their trauma, as well as overcome the negative influences of their environment by gaining new perspective and hope.
Children like Asha and Kosey who are part of this program are much happier and healthier because they are learning to be children, rather than guardians over other siblings. The program is helping to shape the children’s behavior, while also providing trade skills, like sewing or knitting, which will help secure their future responsibly.
UMCOR Looks into Future Child Action Development
The health and hunger units of UMCOR is in talks with Child Action Initiative to increase the project’s capacity through an integrated approach that will provide the Kasungami community with three new wells, pediatric and maternity clinics for HIV/AIDS patients and expecting mothers, as well as a demonstration farm to hold farmer field trainings, which will produce healthy crops in a sustainable way.
Through these additional relief projects, the Kasumgami community will be empowered to grow their own food for market and live healthier lives.
How to Help
You can support projects like these which help HIV/AIDS-affected communities and orphans by giving to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance # 982345, or support Child Action Initiative directly by giving to UMCOR Advance # 3021036.
For HIV/AIDS educational resources, please visit www.umglobalaidsfund.org
*Names have been changed
**Santiago is the Project Manager for UMCOR Communications