Until I moved to Africa, I had no understanding of how HIV is destroying families. Now I see the damage on just about every visit I make to the field.
Last week in Tanzania, I met multiple families with children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS. These children are left to face issues I can barely imagine confronting as an adult:
- Deep grief over the loss of one or both parents
- Appreciation for relatives who take them in but also guilt and possible abuse for increasing their caregivers’ hardship
- Hunger, likely every day, as caregivers simply can’t earn enough to feed the larger household
- Being chased away from school for unpaid school fees or not having required uniforms or scholastic materials
- Not having enough energy to play because they aren’t eating enough
- Possibly living with HIV themselves if contracted from their mothers at birth
- If an older orphan, dropping out of school to scrape together a dollar or two each day through odd jobs to support the food and school costs of younger siblings
- Having no hope for their future, being unable to afford the boarding costs of high school and later university—an issue students from all but the wealthiest families in Africa face
It’s not easy meeting these orphans. At the end of each visit, I want to empty out my wallet and leave everything I have with the family. But this would be a temporary solution and likely cause considerable conflict and jealousy when other families learned of the aid they didn’t receive in kind.
Fortunately, through funding from the U.S. government and private funding, CRS is assisting thousands of orphans and vulnerable children by providing a comprehensive set of services to help cover their staggering needs. By prioritizing agricultural assistance and small business development, this aid can also help these burdened families eventually support themselves.
— Debbie DeVoe, CRS regional information officer, East Africa
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