The AIDS epidemic began over 25 years ago, and the disease continues to prey upon millions of families and children around the world. A great number of HIV infected and affected children live in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that over 22.5 million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, including over 2.3 million children (Unicef).
Ethiopia has an estimated 2 million people living with HIV and the third highest number of infections in Africa, according to UNAIDS. With an estimated population of 83 million people and per capita income of less than US$100 annually, it is also one of the world’s poorest countries. Tackling the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia is a challenge – but one that is being met at places like AHOPE for Children.
Just over 100 HIV+ children who are without families call AHOPE for Children home. Thankfully, UNAIDS reports that more people than ever are living with HIV, largely due to greater access to treatment. At AHOPE for Children, the idea is to do more than ‘live’ – the idea is to thrive.
I was witness to thriving. I had the privilege to visit AHOPE for Children a few weeks ago. For those of you who follow my FB page, you know I spent weeks plotting and planning an AHOPE extravaganza. First, I worked for weeks on an arts and crafts plan that would suit over 100 mixed ages kids, from 1 to 17! I am no artist, I can tell you – I set the bar high to find the ‘perfect art project.’ I had the kind help of a great number of friends and the assistance my encouraging family and hatched a plan for hand sprayed canvas bags. I purchased 130 bags, bought bags of supplies at the local art store, had in-house artist Songbird and friend Ms. Frizzle mock up samples, and the art project for the entire AHOPE family was ‘game on!’ My fabulous Mudula Mama companions joined me as we hosted our event. Have a look at the artists in residence at AHOPE for Children!
The Mamas then commenced with the ‘Great Watch Give-Away.’ Over 60 families answered my request for watches for the children at AHOPE. THANK YOU FAMILIES! I had heard that the kids had been asking for watches for over 2 years, and while we all helped trek school supplies to AHOPE, the Mamas decided to give the kids surprises. Watches. Watches in every size and color. Flashing, beeping, bedazzled and bejeweled. It was beautiful chaos. On every wrist, a watch.
And the day was perfect, 100 kids worth of perfect – accompanied by ice cream and giggles and music and talk of dreams and futures and perhaps even families. Betam Konjo.
And then I had the chance to travel across Addis (no small task!) with some of the Mudula Mamas and visit the Community Development Center. CDC is an AHOPE for Children supported family center that KEEPS FAMILIES TOGETHER! (Yeah, that deserves a shout!). This place seriously knocked my socks off. It is a center located right in the middle of a bustling urban neighborhood where kids and their families get the things they need to sustain their family lives despite the scourge of HIV. Kids eat, get meds, get tutors, have daily hygiene opportunities, play, read in the AMAZING center library, an on and on and on.
The CDC is truly cutting edge. With a staff of over 30, they focus on the very things that make living with HIV successful in a place like Ethiopia: strengthening the capacity of families and extended families, tending to anti-stigma programs, mobilizing and strengthening community and home-based responses, strengthening the capacity of families and young people to meet their own needs, daily antiretroviral therapies, food security, education and educational support (tutoring), and a safe space for guidance, counseling, and problem solving. We arrived just before school let out to see kids running through the gate at CDC with things like this – receiving hugs and high fives and encouragement from a team of adults who are helping kids right where they are. Love.
I’m a fan. A big big fan. The Ethiopian Director said to me, “These children are not orphans. Their psycho-social beings are fully intact, fully engaged, and they are happy. They are not suffering the losses of being without a family – they go home at night, to their families.”
AHOPE for Children has big plans for the future of their programs, their children, and their families. On World’s AIDS Day, let’s help them achieve those goals – – to expand the families served by The CDC, to begin programs and life-skills training for the children who are getting closer and closer to aging out of AHOPE for Children, and to continue to educate, support, and encourage all of the children in their care to thrive. Go and give AHOPE for Children a hand. And then give yourself a hand too – because you just made a difference!