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Image: Without education, hope is slim for the thousands of HIV / Aids orphans

Without education, hope is slim for the thousands of HIV / Aids orphans

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Shortly before Christmas, the HRH Secretariat in Oslo was visited by Pastor Nelson Lufafa, right, the Director of the Jinja-based NGO Save the Aids Orphans (STAO). Established as a CBO in 1997, registered as an NGO in 2001, STAO now supports hundreds of child-headed households in the Ugandan cities Jinja, Kamuli and Iganga.

Leaving no doubt that the HIV / Aids situation in his country is far worse than his authorities will admit, and what the international community has been lead to believe, Lufafa states that STAO's main aim is to ensure the well-being of HIV / Aids orphans and widows facing welfare problems. -Taking a practical approach, he says, -we do this in a number of ways. We fundraise for and cover school-fees, so as to lift the burden of paying those, we cover the costs of school uniforms, medicine and other expenses, and in some cases, we even provide food.

-What happens when extended families or foster homes no longer cope?
-What we see, Lufafa continues, -is that when one or both parents die from HIV / Aids, others take over the up-bringing of their children. Sooner or later, these extended families or foster homes tend to grow beyond their financial means. Often, the down-spiralling to this point is accelerated by rocketing medical expenses, only culminating in exorbitant funeral costs.  For many, it comes to a point when the choice is between food and education. Needless to say, at that point, children are taken out of school. We also see increasing numbers of children suffering from malnutrition. regardless of their condition, however, HIV / Aids orphans are expected to contribute, whichever way they can, to the struggling households they have become part of. Often, young girls then drift into prostitution, while young boys may be exploited for cheap, but far too streanous labour, unhealthy for their still growing bodies. Others still are forced to replace their parents at home or in the fields. Either way, more often than not, they are left in charge of tasks far beyond what such young children can be expected to cope with.

-Have a sewing machine. And a cow
-In some areas of Uganda, Lufafa says, the streets are now overwhelmed with orphaned children. While the official HIV / Aids rate for the whole of Uganda is six percent, some areas now have a rate at least four times higher; up to 25 percent. In some of these areas, we also do a lot of sensitization, informing and instructing on condom use and councelling those already affected by the pandemic. In addition, we have introduced widows? empowerment programmes, providing sewing machines and instructions on how to use them, or, even more basic; buying cattle, so that people can get fresh milk. Some of the money for this originally came from the student foundation at the University of Bergen, Norway, a branch of which now registered as STAO Norway.

A mobile clinic, and a school for the orphans
-Yet another service of ours is the STAO mobile clinic, which brings the drugs and other medical treatment to where the Aids sufferers are, rather than expecting of them to come to the stationary clinics, which in some cases is very far away. With the donation of a wealthy man who had lost most of his family to HIV / Aids, we have also been able to open the Agape integrated school, which is now attended by more than 500 orphans, aged 5-15. Some of the teaching is done by people volunteering their time.

-Widening the window of hope
The early school drop-outs are of particular concern to us, concludes Lufafa. -Education can work to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission. Given our view that it is the suffering from HIV / Aids that leads to all the other problems, we do everything we can to keep the number of drop-outs as low as possible. Education can also reduce the vulnerability to other factors related to this whole situation, such as homelessness and prostitution. What people tell us, is that STAO widens the window of hope. Even if we take courage from such compliments, we also see that a whole generation of development gains is being wiped out by the global HIV / Aids pandemic.

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