Advocates Deliver Care, Guidance to Zimbabwe Orphans
August 01, 2009, —
Children in Zimbabwe
who have lost their parents to AIDS face extraordinary hardships. But many have
advocates committed to helping them rise above their circumstances.
"In our work, we are trying to ensure these kids—despite
all the challenges they have faced and will face in their lives—develop to
their full potential," says Carolyn Fanelli of Catholic Relief Services in
Zimbabwe. Based in the capitol city of Harare, Fanelli is part of a team that oversees
CRS' HIV programs. CRS serves around 20,000 of
href="/zimbabwe/strive/">Zimbabwe's neediest orphans
href="/zimbabwe/strive/">Zimbabwe's neediest orphansand
vulnerable children with programs that provide education assistance,
href="/zimbabwe/nzeve-youth/">HIV awareness href="/zimbabwe/response-economic-upheaval/">food security
href="/zimbabwe/nzeve-youth/">HIV awareness, financial help,
health care and counseling. Here she talks with associate web producer
Kai T. Hill about Zimbabwe's orphans.
- Kai Hill:
- Could you begin by describing the situation for orphans
and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe?
- Carolyn Fanelli:
Most children here become orphans as the result of AIDS. However,
children in Zimbabwe can also be orphaned or deemed highly vulnerable because
of disability, early marriage, neglect, abuse or living on the street.
Overall, the numbers of children affected by HIV are staggering.
In December 2006, UNICEF announced that Zimbabwe has the world's highest
percentage of children orphaned by AIDS, with almost one in every four children
having lost at least one parent to the disease. This has led to a total orphan
population of 1.6 million children. Two years earlier, the government estimated
that approximately 318,000 Zimbabwean children were living in households headed
by children. This typically means that both parents have died and one of the
older siblings has assumed the parental role. In addition, approximately
165,000 Zimbabwean children are HIV-positive.
In working to meet their needs, I feel it is most important
to remember that these kids are first and foremost children. They love to play,
go to school, and cause trouble every now and again. The health and development
of children are the responsibility of all of us—and orphans and vulnerable
children need our help the most.
- What are some of the hardships faced by orphaned children or
households where one or both parents have contracted HIV?
Orphans and vulnerable children face challenges ranging from lack of sufficient food to lack of overall parental oversight,
especially in the case of child-headed households. On visits to some
communities, the most obvious indication of child suffering I've observed is
when adult responsibilities have shifted to the child. Most often it's the
eldest child who bears the burden of caring for the home and his or her
siblings. You'll see them working in the field instead of going to school. Community
members do help out when they can, but often they are also burdened with caring
for other orphans.
- How are these children coping with the challenges of
continuing their education, given the recent teachers' strike?
Teachers across the country were on strike for most of the
past year over wage issues and concern that they were not given sufficient
educational materials to do their jobs. Many left the country altogether.
Children, including many orphans, showed up for school but had no one to teach them.
While monthly allowances of $100 have lured some teachers back,
we still have serious concerns about the quality of education. Very few schools
are fully functioning. Other children are fortunate to have parents with the
means to pay for private lessons or home-schooling, but orphans typically can't
afford this. Rural areas are the hardest hit.
Despite the country's economic hardships, education is
highly regarded here. The importance of getting an education is infused in the
entire society. Children want to be educated and believe it is critical to
- Tell us of some of the ways that CRS helps serve orphans and
vulnerable children in Zimbabwe.
Instead of paying school fees directly to schools, CRS
provides schools with much-needed resources and classroom equipment in exchange
for allowing children in need to attend school. Providing aid for the entire
school avoids stigmatizing specific children. Our approach helps the entire
school. Assets, such as desks, are more valuable than one-time school fee
We have also made real progress in establishing "child-friendly
schools" at 33 schools. The idea is for HIV-positive children as well as
other students to develop criteria for making their school a comfortable,
welcoming place that meets their needs. Our aim is to create an environment
conducive to learning, that is free of stigma and discrimination, where kids
are disciplined fairly and everyone is respected. Another way we
help children is by facilitating support groups for HIV-positive children so
they have a safe space to talk about the challenges they face.
We also train their caregivers. We use materials that help children
better understand the antiretroviral drugs they take and the importance of
taking their medication every day. Our extensive referral network also allows us
to link children to treatment services and support options.
- What do you see as particular strengths among orphans and
vulnerable children, their caregivers and their communities?
Children's dedication to going to school is amazing. I
recently visited a school in a township outside of the capital, Harare, that because
of the strike had only two teachers. I went inside one classroom and to my
surprise there was a full class of kids. They were as quiet as mice as they
waited for a teacher to show up. These kids so wanted to learn, and the fact
that schools are not really functioning is just a tragedy for them.
I've noticed that Zimbabweans have shown an amazing ability
to care for orphaned children. Almost every household is caring for one or more
orphans. Our volunteers are also amazing. They are poor, too, and many care for
orphans or other vulnerable children. But they are willing to spare some time
each week to visit households and check to see how the children are doing, and
find solutions when there are problems.
Many volunteers are parishioners and are motivated by their
faith to help their neighbors. They say that they or their children could be in
the same position and they would want to be taken care of as they take care of
others. People want to make a difference in someone's life. When they see a
child-headed household or a sickly parent, they naturally want to help.