AIDS Orphans: Overwhelming Statistics

23 Feb

Blog post by Wendy K, Team Haiti 2012

Looking through the lens of my mind’s eye, I see two children.
Two children separated by continents.

One sitting pretty clothed in family,
A backdrop of abundance….
A broad smile…
Eyes of hope…
A triumphant shout…
A life of promise.

The other –
Utterly alone.
A backdrop of empty…
A vacant look…
Eyes of misery…
A silent scream…
A life lost.

Two children made in God’s image, precious in His eyes, worthy of respect, dignity and a opportunity.  Two lives- one full of hope, the other hanging in the balance.  I ask myself what I would do if this was the plight of one of my children.  One life lost is tragic enough, but over 16 million children have been orphaned by AIDS.  14.8 million of these children live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The scale of the orphan crisis is beyond my imagining. The problems faced by AIDS orphans are massive creating a domino effect leading to orphans being marginalized, stigmatized, malnourished, uneducated and psychologically damaged.

AIDS orphans suffer emotional and physical neglect long before they are orphaned.  Sick parents unable to work aren’t able to provide for the basic necessities of food, clothing, health and education.   Many children end up having to care for their sick parent, having to take on more household responsibility or care of other siblings, interrupting their schooling.  Then there is the trauma of when the parent/s dies, not only having to deal with the loss, but at the same time having to adjust to a new living situation.  Those orphans who are placed in large female-headed households are often forced to contribute financially to the household and may be driven to the streets to beg or seek food.

To make matters worse, children grieving for the dying or dead parent are often stigmatized by society through their association with AIDS,  leaving them to deal with shame, fear and rejection.  They are less likely to receive healthcare, schooling and other needed services.  Deprived of protection, education, support and love, they face malnutrition, illness, HIV infection and are easy prey to many forms of exploitation: forced labor, prostitution and child soldiering.

The demand for care and support of these large numbers of orphans is simply overwhelming.  Orphanages are no longer sustainable due to the scale of the problem.  Communities with a high prevalence of AIDS orphans are experiencing a deterioration of services and high levels of stress. The goal now is to care for orphans in family units through extended family networks, foster families and adoption.  But some families are no longer willing or able to continue care.  There are not enough resources to meet the need.

Literature says the way forward is three fold:  1. prevent HIV infection; 2. provide access to antiretroviral treatment; and 3. care for the orphan.

So I sit here wondering what the answer is and where even to start.  But I realize behind all the numbers and the span of miles, there is a real child desperate for love, for a family, for a future.  The place to start is my hand and heart reaching out to theirs in some fashion or form.  I wait on the Lord with open hands.

Wendy will be serving on the Haiti Journey 117 Team leaving in March 2012 along with and others from her church in Evanston, IL. She hopes to discover her role as an advocate for the orphan as a result of this experience.

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