Lloyd and Faston receive regular visits from CAHA mentors (Photo by Ky'okusinga Kirunga/SLF)

Caring for Child-Headed Households

Even the most experienced activists for CAHA – Central Action on HIV/AIDS in Zambia – were shocked. A vast and determined network of volunteers started by youth, CAHA fans out across 90 communities to do door-to-door canvassing, offering rapid counselling, testing and support services as well as AIDS prevention and care. But when they started to discover house after house with only children at home, they realized the challenges had escalated.

In the devastated area of Lukanga Swamps, they found children like Lloyd and Faston, who live in a ruined mudfloored shack. Lloyd is eight. He has been on his own since he was six, when both his parents died. He faithfully looks after six-year-old Faston. At night, in the vast and friendless dark, the children sleep on a flattened cardboard box, with no blankets or covers, and cling to each other for comfort.

When the CAHA volunteer came, Lloyd said it was a lucky day. He had caught a fish that morning, and sold it to a local woman – now he and Faston would have a meal of corn flour that evening.

CAHA is working to develop support networks for children like Lloyd and Faston. Community mentors are being trained to visit regularly. Shelter, food, school fees and books can turn a catastrophic situation into one of optimism and courage.

Nanyangwe, 16, had despaired before CAHA came to her door. Trying to raise six younger siblings, ages four to 15, with no means of support, had brought this bright teenager to a point of no return. The house was silent, except for the younger children crying from hunger. The seven and nine year olds had taken to stealing and crushing bricks, then trying to sell them.

CAHA has done for Nanyangwe’s family what it did for Lloyd and Faston: now there is regular food, all the children are in school, a mentor visits three times a week, and the children even have shoes. Nanyangwe herself is excelling at school – and she is smiling again. She has a future.

The mentors help orphans to talk about their feelings and needs, settle disputes among siblings, reassure them that their parents’ death was not their fault, and try to keep these youngsters from taking to a lawless life on the streets.

We speak of the resilience of the AIDS orphans, and the astonishing gains they can make with the smallest amount of material and emotional aid. Equally amazing is the resilience of the volunteers, with their unflagging work on behalf of the starving, the sick, the abandoned. With SLF support, CAHA reaches 1,440 Zambians. Anything we can do to help them, in the grip of the pandemic, will be repaid a thousandfold in human happiness.

Photo: Lloyd and Faston receive regular visits from CAHA mentors (Photo by Ky'okusinga Kirunga/SLF)

Originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of Grassroots.


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