December 03, 2004, Durban, South Africa —
Sizakele Keswa pulls a photo of her mother from a flowered shoe box and holds it in the light of the half opened window. You can see the resemblance — the round face and high cheekbones — all that Sizakele, 13, has to remember her mother by now.
With the death of her mother from AIDS in 1999, Sizakele joined the growing list of children in South Africa who are growing up without parents — left as orphans by a pandemic that has killed both of their parents or, as in Sizakele's case, deserted by a father she never really knew. And though once faced with a bleak future, Sizakele is perhaps now among the comparatively lucky few of Africa's burgeoning population of AIDS-impacted children.
Taken in by a local woman who had cared for her mother during her illness, Sizakele finds in her extended family the love and support that so many left parentless are denied. Sizakele and Zanele Bolata, the woman who took her in and to whom Sizakele refers simply as Makazi, or "mother", now receives support from Sinosizo, a partner agency of Catholic Relief Services in Durban. Through Sinosizo, Sizakele and more than 900 other orphans receive assistance in everything from applying for government grants and help with school fees to food parcels for child headed households. Sinosizo also works with parents to create a "Memory Box" before they pass away — leaving behind letters, jewelry, photographs and other special objects that will be a comfort to the children, usually in a decorated shoe box. It is a small but critical role to play in a country that is unable to keep pace with the demands created by the devastation of HIV and AIDS.
To Sizakele and other young children Sinosizo has provided something else as well — the support to deal with the pain of loss that comes with losing a parent. It is a loss Sinosizo teaches orphans to embrace rather than to hide by encouraging them to light a candle each time they want to think back on the memories of their parents. Sizakele keeps her candle, worn and melted, in the same flowered shoe box as the photo of her mother: a small, tragic, but hopeful monument to the chance, at least, of a brighter future.
How Do We Do This Project and What Are Our Accomplishments To Date?
Sinosizo Home Based Care is a Durban-based, nongovernmental organization established in 1995 by the Archdiocese of Durban to respond to the growing need for care of people living with HIV and AIDS, their families and communities in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is comprised of full time staff members and a core of volunteer caregivers based in the communities where they work. Sinosizo works primarily with six communities in under-resourced areas in and around Durban assisting them to meet the care needs placed on individuals, families and communities as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
Catholic Relief Services support Sinosizo with a five year home-based care and training project. To date, 3,306 households caring for a person with a long term illness received home based care assistance from a Sinosizo volunteer, staff member or trainee. Sinosizo also provides counselling and support to orphans and vulnerable children, including child-headed households.