Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Imagine a World Without AIDS

Well, Africa is certainly a wondrous place, but there is one particular lesson I am learning the hard way.

Nothing seems to happen exactly when you expect (or want ... or even hope) it to!

To wit, each time I post a blog to this site, I have been ending by saying things like, "Tomorrow, I will talk about such and such." Well, tomorrow doesn't seem to come for at least 3 or 4 days, most of the time, simply due to how much of a challenge it is to find a decent internet connection and get everything uploaded. The stars have to align before all the equipment and connectivity seems to come together.

I am learning patience! A.k.a., "Africa time."

At any rate, in my last blog, I said I would talk about how our colleagues here in South Africa are working to prepare children for an AIDS-free world. There are two parallel efforts to try and make this happen.

#1: Simply Keeping Children Alive

One is simply to keep children alive and healthy TODAY. With their parents and others around them struggling with AIDS, children themselves are often struggling simply to survive. And World Vision is working hard to help swing the odds in their favor.

In Soweto, for instance, while the famous 1976 Soweto Uprising may have signaled the beginning of the end for Apartheid, many things haven’t changed in this boyhood home of Nelson Mandela which is counted among the world’s largest slums. People are now theoretically free to come and go as they please, but the harsh reality of poverty keeps millions within the township’s boundaries. Unemployment, disease, overcrowding, crime and child abuse seem endemic here. And harshest of all is the scourge of HIV, which afflicts more than one out of every three of the ghetto’s inhabitants.

In the Orlando East Township in Soweto, World Vision staff and volunteers work five days a week to prepare food for about 1,300 sponsored children who swing by the World Vision office in Orlando East on their way home from school each day. Today it is a container full of flavored rice, enough to last the child and one or two siblings through several meals. Different courses are prepared on different days in order to ensure a balanced diet for the children.

Without this food assistance, many of these children would be more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease, and hunger would prevent them from concentrating on their school studies. About 900 of these 1,300 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS and are usually staying with extended family members. With more than 50 percent unemployment in Soweto, these families are among the poorest of the poor and World Vision’s assistance is desperately needed and appreciated.

#2: Keeping Them Safe From Predators and Social Pressure To Have Sex

South Africa has one of the highest rates of child abuse and exploitation in the world. In ghettoes like Soweto (an acronym for “South Western Township” since it is an urban area southwest of Johannesburg), with its desperate poverty, unemployment, disease, and people crowded together sometimes dozens to a small shack-like dwelling, the sad reality of rampant child abuse has prompted the government to partner with organizations like World Vision to seek to address the causes and change the conditions that create the problem.

“Child Rights Week,” celebrated the week before the "Soweto Uprising" anniversary, is one such effort. To commemorate Child Rights Week, World Vision’s Orlando East Area Development Program, which operates in one of the townships in Soweto, helped to organize a special event for children ages 3-6 to empower them and those who care for them to recognize and stand up against child abuse.

The event brought hundreds of students from crèches throughout the East Orlando Township (a “crèche” is a preschool or daycare program) together to a school in the township for a day of teaching, song and dance, food, and special activities, all designed around equipping them to be able to recognize and tell a safe person if they are becoming involved in a situation of sexual or other abuse.

The message being given to children is designed both to empower them to take control of situations where they are being victimized, and to instill the fear of consequence into the victimizers. Cece, one of the crèche teachers who brought her students to the event, said: “We tell them, if somebody asks you to do something you know is wrong, you don't have to keep quiet about it. You can report to your mother, to your neighbor, to your aunt, to your sister, to people you can be comfortable to report to.”

Cece acknowledged that sometimes children are afraid of their parents, so they are given other options of people they can talk to. “They are very young, but they do understand,” she assured. “They are so bright. They understand that if they are told to keep quiet because somebody is doing something bad to them, they can talk with their parents. If they are afraid to talk with their mother, there are other things they can do.”

The event has been taking place annually for several years. Is it making a difference? “Absolutely,” said Cece, citing instances she was aware of where abusive parents had even been arrested and the children removed to protective custody.

Next Time ...

Okay, I'm not going to promise "tomorrow!" Mandy and I have moved from the Big City into the countryside, and today are visiting Okhahlamba (pronounced "Oka-schlamba," with a gutteral schl sound, if you dare to try that), a large rural area to the east of the mountainous eastern border with Lesotho, about four hours journey south of Johannesburg (and therefore halfway to the coast). It is an area of astonishing geological beauty, but great poverty, with many orphans and other children made vulnerable by the AIDS pandemic. World Vision's project here is working in amazing ways to bring hope and help to some of the earth's most vulnerable and impoverished people, and I can't wait to tell you more about it tomorrow ... I mean, "Next time!"
Until then, stay safe, stay well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Larry and Mandy! Blessings to you for safe travels!

- bc