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Children Coping with the Aftermath of AIDS in Africa

A young member of the Masiye Program practices mountain climbing.
As I've been writing over the past couple of weeks, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a very pressing issue here in Zimbabwe. In addition to all the prevention and awareness programs like the ones Matabeleland Aids Council (MAC) is involved with, it is necessary to address the enormous suffering on a household level that is caused by this frightening disease.

Imagine, if you will, some of the consequences of AIDS. Here in Southern Africa, the main way the disease is spread is through heterosexual contact. It usually hits men and women of childbearing ages. If AIDS is spread through heterosexual contact, what happens when children lose both parents to the disease?

This is a huge issue here in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is estimated that by the year 2000 there will be over 30 million children orphaned due to AIDS. In Zimbabwe today, there are already more than 380,000 AIDS orphans.

Click image for larger view
Some of the orphans out on canoes in Matopos National Park.
The Masiye Program was established in Bulawayo specifically to address this growing problem. When children lose their parents, it is customary for the child to stay in the care of the extended family. As the AIDS epidemic progresses, communities are losing more of their adult population. This, combined with the constraints of poverty and despair, often leaves older teenagers responsible to care for their brothers and sisters--a role many of them are not ready for. The emergence of these Child Headed Households (CHH) is one of the most distressing consequences of the AIDS epidemic. There have been cases where children as young as 12 years old have been left to care for their siblings. I don't know about you, but when I was 12 I didn't know how to run a family!

The Masiye Program leads training camps to help ease the distress and hardship that surround AIDS orphans. The camps are held at their training center set in beautiful Matopos National Park. In addition to the main goals, all the camps include recreational activities like canoeing and ropes courses to help build group solidarity and confidence. They have three main focuses for the training camps:

  • Life skills and coping for orphans in need
  • Teenage parenting courses for orphans left to care for their siblings
  • Vocational training programs

One favorite activity is arts and crafts.
The Life skills training camps are held during school holidays and help orphans dealing with the grief process and assist them with coping with the situation they are living in. Children of parents with AIDS often harbor feelings of guilt because they feel as though they failed in caring for their parents. At the training camps they are counseled and taught that it is not their fault. They receive training in life skills, nutrition, hygiene as well as traditional cultural skills. By the end of the training camp, each child also receives a medical check-up by a pediatrician. The camps are linked with regional orphan care programs so that when the children return to their homes continuing support can be provided throughout the year.

Making a Difference - In Zimbabwe and at Home

A program like Masiye is always in need of financial support. Can you and your classmates raise $50-$100 to help them out? Or can you collect supplies or something else they need, to help them in their great work? You can write them at:

The Salvation Army, Jabulani Siwela Field Program Officer
Masiye Training Camp
P.O. Box AC 800
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe


ALSO, what do you know about how your own community is responding to its own needs? What resources are there for orphaned children, or for the families of victims of AIDS? You can help them in three simple steps!

  1. Find out what organizations exist and what they are doing. Make a few phone calls to the city government to find out what organizations exist, then call them to find out what they're doing.
  2. Find out what these organizations most need to help their programs continue or grow and better serve the people in your community.
  3. Organize your class to collect whatever these organizations need - canned food, used toys, small money donations, whatever.
You'll learn a lot, and help improve the lives of the people around you!
The two other training camps are geared specifically towards CHHs. Being left to take over responsibility from your deceased parents is a great challenge and often teenagers find they cannot cope with the difficult situation. The teenage parenting courses are designed to train teenagers in skills such as basic nutrition, hygiene, first aid, income generation, marketing skills, and legal issues. The legal issues component is particularly important because teenage headed households are often targets for exploitation. They learn about issues related to inheritance and education and the basic rights of children.

Another serious issue that faces CHH's is the difficulty of earning enough money to sustain the family. Teenage caregivers usually must drop out of school and are highly vulnerable to falling into criminal activities or prostitution or child labor in order to meet the needs of their families. Unemployment is a big problem for all of Zimbabwe, but the situation is even worse for orphans since they are so young and can no longer rely on their parent's connections to help. The Masiye program is planning to start a vocational training center that will be recognized by the Ministry of Higher Education and will offer one-year courses to help orphans enter the labor market. Due to its ideal location near Matopos National Park, the focus of the training will be in arts & crafts and hospitality & catering management. These skills will provide youth a gateway to entering the local tourist industry.

The Masiye program has received funding from a number of international sources, but there is still a great need to reach out to meet all the needs of the many AIDS orphans in the country. Their intention is that once income generating programs like environmental tourism have started, the camps will finance themselves. Masiye is a Ndebele word meaning "Let's go forward" and the Masiye Camp is certainly going forward in facing the coming challenges of orphans in Zimbabwe.


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Kevin - Our Meating Was Not A Coincidence!
Monica - Rapunzel, Rapunzel...
Abeja - Anger at an Unfair World
Kavitha - Children Coping with the Aftermath of AIDS in Africa
Abeja - A Friend in Need...

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