It Takes a Village: Community organizations respond while the world falls silent on the orphan crisis


Fall 2014

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In this issue:
Message from Stephen Lewis
Feature article: “It Takes a Village”
Grandmothers Campaign
Interview: Grandmother Lucia
SLF Film Release & Legacy Giving
Financial Overview

Stephen Lewis (photo by Tamela Hultman)

A Message from Stephen Lewis

It’s perhaps unseemly, I admit, for me to toot the horn of the Foundation, but in this instance I can’t resist.

Each time Grassroots is published, I get a chance to see the printed version in advance, so that any remarks I might make are relevant and sym-metrical. In the instance of this issue, I was blown away.

The extended piece on orphans, drawing upon the experience of several projects in different countries is, quite simply, superb. Yes, I grant that you’d expect me to make that kind of comment, but in truth, there’s no need to gild the lily. The article and commentaries speak for themselves. Seldom has so much insight and intelligence been provided in one place.

Is that of particular importance? Absolutely. Why? Because children, orphaned as a result of parents dying of AIDS, have fallen off the map of international concern. In a staggering act of delinquency, UNAIDS now writes entire reports on the pandemic and orphans are never mentioned, and UNICEF, the guardian of children, the organization that once had orphans on the cover of every publication for fundraising purposes, now talks rarely of orphans.

What happened? It was, I think, a four-stage process.

First, the experts argued that orphans would simply be absorbed by the extended family. No need to worry. But it didn’t happen because the extended family was so often itself shredded by the virus.

Second, the international experts got worried that too much attention was being paid to the orphans… what about all the other impoverished children? Thus it was that the acronym “OVC” crept into the AIDS vocabulary: “Orphans and Vulnerable Children.” They were all needy children; they should all be treated the same way. But that argument was also flawed. It became clear that the orphan kids who had experienced the intense trauma of death by AIDS were in far worse shape—emotionally and psychologically—than other children, no matter how neglected the other children might be.

Third, in order to overcome this situation, the various governments decided on a policy of cash transfers… in effect, welfare payments to poor households, especially those with orphans. There’s no question that it’s helped. But it’s nowhere near enough.

Fourth, so along came the grandmothers. They are the stalwarts, the magnificent compassionate folk who sustain the lives of their orphan grandchildren and countless others as well. Yet we all know, certainly the Foundation knows, that grandmothers are also reeling, and help is desper-ately required.

That’s why I love this edition of Grassroots. It bares the reality for all to see. It makes it clear that the needs of orphans are so varied, so intense, so urgent, that a kind of inspired, mass response is necessary.

The Foundation is helping to create that response. I’m unabashedly proud of the staff of the Foundation for plunging in where so many others refuse to tread.

Stephen Lewis
Chair of the Board
Stephen Lewis Foundation

Next: Feature article: “It Takes a Village” >>


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