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GLBTI ISSUES:HUMAN RIGHTS, HIV & AIDS AND CHRISTIAN FAITH CONFERENCE with special attention to CHILDREN OF AFRICA HOPE MISSION

In the African world-view there is a fine connection between human experience and the value of life. HIV & AIDS are one of the major afflictions upon the people in Africa. When one looks into the eyes of orphaned children or dying mothers, one sees either a future filled with bitterness or forgiveness towards a world that is at best indifferent. The orphaned children of Africa carry the banner of hope and compassion that transcends the anguish brought about by HIV and AIDS. They are the custodians of a new future for the continent. Africa must invest in their future health, education, empowerment and support. The adults remain inspired by their resilience against the fear and current state of gloom.

The tendency of too many Christians to stigmatize human sexuality and blames the Aids pandemic on immorality, especially in the name of the church standards, is not only no solution, “ it is a major contributor to rejection , discrimination, misunderstanding and loss of trust that HIV people have to live with,” says Canon Gideon Byamugisha of the Anglican Church of Uganda. HIV is a virus and AIDS is the disease it causes; neither is a sin. HIV and AIDS have occasioned a new moment of truth about what it means to be alive in a world where life and death struggle for reality in Africa. HIV and AIDS cannot be considered an epidemic in the classic sense- a disease that appears, affects people in a community or region, and then disappears. It has become a pandemic that has come to stay in human communities and that acquires global proportions in terms of its reach and consequences.

Statistics show that more than up to 200,000 children in Kenya are living with HIV 600 people die daily from AIDS related causes; some 800 babies are born to infected mothers monthly. Recent research indicates that 1 in every 11 children is an AIDS orphan, 1 in every 6 children is vulnerable. It also indicates that close to 40,000 Aids orphans are expected to die because they don’t access anti retroviral treatment. It is also observed that barely ½ of the HIV positive children live to celebrate their second birthday.

A child born into a poor family also inherits all the ills associated with poverty. Few can improve their situation, and HIV and AIDS intensify their suffering. Extreme poverty causes devastation and hopelessness. HIV and AIDS is a disease unlike any other because it has not only devastated the whole person but has almost managed to destroy family units, strong bonds that make the African extended family and the economic system. Many have not begun to fathom the magnitude of Africa’s orphan crisis now that many children are growing up without the supervision of adults. Siblings or child headed homes are a reality in many households and yet few churches have pastoral theology, care and counseling that speak to this generation of orphans. The life style in the slums only increases the number of traumatized vulnerable, orphans and adults.

Kenya has about3 million orphans and Ngando slum alone where Children of Africa Hope Mission is located has around 500 orphans and around 1500 vulnerable children. In Kenya 46 % homes are headed either by the elderly –grandparents or children. This situation is aggravated across the continent by the economic demands of child labor especially in rural and slum communities. The pandemic across Africa has left innumerable children orphaned, especially in rural and slum areas. Because the extended African household economy that supported affection and compassion towards such children is often no longer viable, they have nowhere to turn. Communities, families, and individuals in Africa are helpless as they watch their sons and daughters bound in hopelessness without medication or facilities to combat the disease. The young give up on life early when they see their parents helpless and their communities engulfed and ravaged by fear of the unknown. One must enter into the world of orphaned children to comprehend the degree of anguish that HIV and AIDS brings to their lives. The misery that accompanies the death of parents and loved ones leaves many children helpless and with unanswered questions about life. This is deeply expressed by children of Africa Hope Mission in their poem, Our Plight. This poem was composed by the children at the school to express how society treats them and what they would love to be. They even question God, why us? Who sinned? Was it us or our parents? To deserve this kind of treatment.

The vicious tendencies to stigmatize people living with HIV and AIDS are often based on social and religious taboos and attributes of human sexuality which children do not understand. As Njoroge states, “We have made the choice to battle against the HIV /AIDS pandemic and much more. We now know the disease speaks multiple languages and thrives on multiple pandemics. Providentially we are beginning to see a change of heart in the churches that stood paralyzed for many years as AIDS claimed many lives. Nonetheless institutions and programs remain paralyzed on many other fronts as people struggle against abject poverty, chronic hunger, malnutrition, and gender based violence.”

The mission of this CBO is to give hope and purpose to vulnerable and disadvantaged women, youth and children through advocacy and capacity building programs in the slums and rural areas of Kenya. It has its leadership structure and workers who are mainly women.

Among our works we have established Children of Africa Hope Mission in the Ngando slums-Riruta of Nairobi to cater for orphans and vulnerable children in the provision of food, education, clothing, medicine and psychosocial support. To conduct HIV/AIDS/TB therapies in prevention, care, treatment and support of infected and affected households in the identified areas. Children who have been abandoned, orphaned, or neglected live on the streets or in poorly run homes. Those on the street are frequently deprived of basic rights and face the heightened threat of HIV/AIDS. Some become addicted to drugs. Deprivation of liberty for children is characterized by discrimination, abuse and neglect. Common violations in slum homes include physical and mental abuse, malnutrition and denial of the right to education and participation. Giving hope and purpose to these vulnerable and orphaned children in the slums has been one of our successes as an organization.
The Children of Africa Hope Mission opened its doors to the children on 5th January 2009. It catered for about 250 orphans and vulnerable children in the slums of Ngando but due to the challenges we face as an organization we cut off the number to 106 pupils. The youngest child at the school is 3 years while the oldest is 12 years. The school runs from Pre School up to class 4.We offer the normal government system of education.

What we do
1. We provide children with universal primary education (UPE).
2. We have to literally provide everything for these children; uniform, books, desks etc because their parents/guardians can’t afford to purchase them.
3. Feeding program: We do have a feeding program in place for these children. We offer porridge and lunch to these children.
4. By addressing issues experienced by orphaned and vulnerable children, child counseling continues to prove as one of our most important initiatives in the community movement’s holistic approach to addressing the effects of HIV/AIDS. The initiative came out of a felt need by parents living with HIV/AIDS, that after disclosing their status, some of their children were experiencing emotional distress.
5. Facilitating quality family care for children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS under Home-based care project is what we are doing as an organization. This project covers the slums of Ngando, Kawangware, Racecourse, Lenana and Riruta.
Challenges
Setting up a health facility that is HIV and AIDS friendly is our dream as an organization. This will serve the children and the community and will ease them the agony of having to travel long distances to seek medical attention when in need.

Feeding programme: It is quite a challenge for the organization to give children a balanced/nutritional diet throughout the month. Many a times they have to make do with 1 meal a day or sometimes none at all.
Educational Material: Desks and books being key tools in any tangible education are rear commodities at Children of Africa Hope Mission. The children sit on the floor and the lucky ones who manage to get seats, lack the writing space. These children share a chair and do the writing from their laps. They also lack text and exercise books.

Stipend for volunteer teaching and support staff: They do without stipend for long. This makes them leave because they have to support themselves and their families. Some have even ended up taking the officials to the local administration and accusing us for non payment for the services offered.

Purchase a parcel of land (5 acres) where the CBO will put up a boarding facility for these children. Some of these children come from un habitable homes thus exposing them to stigma and trauma. Some come from abusive homes so letting them stay in these homes longer is exposing them to dangers like child labor, sexual abuse, un wanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS among others.
School Van. This is important especially when it comes to running errands for the school, organization and even taking children out on field/ educational trips.

It is also important to note that support for these children from UMCOR was withdrawn due to our involvement with this ministry - the LGBT. Our homophobic church leaders felt we are in the “wrong” ministry thus these innocent children are suffering what they don’t understand. It is also alleged that we are teaching children to become Homosexuals and I am yet to come across any school that teaches one on his or her sexual orientation.

These children are not statistics out there but children living with HIV and AIDS…..They are spiritual beings having a human experience. As the Bishop emeritus Desmond Tutu put it, “We are the agents of transformation , capable of turning the tide against the disease .We must recognize our interconnection , regardless of geographical ,cultural or religious constructs…We must respect each other…We must stand shoulder to shoulder ,heart to heart in the fight against HIV and AIDS”

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