SOS Children knows, perhaps better than anyone else, how AIDS impacts the lives of children. So on World AIDS Day, we underline our commitment to children whose lives have been uprooted by the epidemic. SOS Children has grassroots projects in most countries in Africa working at a simple level giving practical support to children. Last year, SOS Children supported more than 50,000 AIDS orphans in their family home in 45 African countries.
HIV/AIDS now defines the structure of families, and it is one of the main reasons for the dramatic increase in the number of orphaned children. We are committed to helping children and their families deal with this epidemic and do so on many fronts. We support the most vulnerable families (where the breadwinner has HIV or has already died) to ensure they have the means to care for children and, make sure a child can remain at home. Where no viable family is left, we take children into our Villages and build a new family for them.
Across the board SOS Children does everything else we can ranging from: awareness building, on how HIV/AIDS is spread and how mother-to-child transmission
can be prevented; to offering voluntary counseling and testing for parents living with the virus. Material aid in the form of food and school fees is provided to particularly vulnerable households, as is anti-retroviral treatment for infected parents. Many of the children who are particularly at risk of ending up on the streets are living in families with one or more terminally ill parents. In other cases, often households headed by either a grandparent or an older sibling after parental death. Many such households live in extreme poverty and are lacking basic necessities such as food and clothing, as well as being mostly completely deprived of health care and education. In urban areas, many end up as street children and are exposed to sexual exploitation, as well as being at high risk of becoming HIV/AIDS infected.
Our work for AIDS Orphans is growing. In 2005, there were just 57 SOS Social Centres and social support programmes working with children affected by HIV/AIDS on the whole African continent. As of 2010, we have hundreds of thousands of children on our programmes throughout all the 45 countries in Africa where we work. These include numerous schools, Vocational Training Centres, medical centres that are actively involved in supporting AIDS Orphans and promoting AIDS awareness. The number of beneficiaries is growing all the time but we are aiming to support ten children in the community for each child who ends up living in our Villages because they have no viable community to live in.
In Swaziland for example, SOS Children is supporting families that are particularly at risk of abandoning their children through its social centre in Mbabane. Under this programme, families are provided with monthly support for food, clothing, school fees and medical aid to ensure they have the means to care for their children. Swaziland is one of the Sub-Saharan African countries that will see the largest increase in the number of orphans by 2010. Another one of the most severely affected countries is Lesotho where 80 percent of the orphans will have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS. Through its social centre in Maseru, SOS Children is carrying out home visits to especially vulnerable families to ensure that the psychological, physical and educational needs of the children are being provided for. However, even though a large number of children orphaned and affected by AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of children who are living with HIV-infected parents and who have lost parents to AIDS is beginning to grow in other regions, including Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. SOS Children is also working in these regions to provide preventive measures, offer information and fight against taboos concerning HIV/AIDS.
Brotherly love beats the odds: George's story
At age 18, George is the head of his family. Since 2004, when both of his parents died from HIV/AIDS, he and his four siblings have been living on their own in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The responsibilities and challenges as head of a household are a heavy burden to place on any teenager; however, this situation is found with terrifying regularity across Mozambique. Almost half a million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. More than 12 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 is estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, as are more than 90,000 children under age 15.
In keeping his three brothers and his sister together, George has made sure that they all get enough to eat and that they all attend school. That is a testament not only to his love for them and willingness to take on the difficult burden of responsibility, but also to his practical skills. Every month since his parents' deaths, George has managed to scrape together between M 700 and M 1000 (about USD $40) through his carpentry skills making kitchen and bathroom cupboards. These small earnings were enough for food, clothes and school fees, but nothing else. The boys were 'lucky' in the sense that their parents had left them a dilapidated house in which to live, so at least they did not have to pay rent, but the house was in a very poor state and without proper sanitation facilities. Supported by the SOS Social Centre Maputo, the entire family teamed up to assist in the renovation work of their home.
George puts a lot of pressure on his siblings to make sure they go to school. He explains: "I don't want them to continue living in the same misery that started after the death of our parents, and I believe that education is of great importance for our future success." During renovation work on the house, for example, George insisted that none of the brothers miss a day in school. At the same time, he asked that at least one of them be available to see how things were going with their new house and to assist where possible. The brothers pulled together in their typical fashion and, as George had predicted, not one of the boys missed a day of school and one of the brothers was always available to help in building their new home. Now all of them are very proud of their newly renovated house – especially the bathroom!
Besides supporting the children in the renovation of their home, the SOS Social Centre Maputo will also help them with scholarships. The boys have been invited to attend workshops to make sure they are aware of their legal rights as orphans, children's rights in general and the risks and causes of HIV/AIDS. In order to supplement the family income, the SOS Social Centre has supported and advised George and the boys in setting up their own small tuck shop. "We hope that we will be able to carry on and maintain our business until we all successfully finish school and start leading an independent life," says George.
From struggling on alone, the five siblings can now start to look forward to improvements in their lives as a result of their strong teamwork and determination – and the partnership with SOS Social Centre Maputo. George still maintains his position as team leader, but with added emotional and practical support from the SOS Social Centre’s field worker, he no longer bears the burden of his responsibility quite so heavily.
By donating to SOS Children you can help us care for children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS.
You can help us continue to make sure they grow up in a caring family, have equal access to education and other essential services, and are protected against stigma and discrimination.