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Home Visits to AIDS Orphans in Africa From a Social Workers Perspective.
By Christine Mummert, Vice-chair, Board of Division for Global Mission
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As a social worker whose career mostly has involved foster care and adoption work in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, I am familiar with the concept of home visits. Ive made many of them. The range of types of homes has been wide from roach-infested, dingy urban walkups to rural farmsteads and orderly small-town middle America clapboard houses.

These kinds of home visits did not prepare me for this particular day in a rural area of Tanzania. The day was spent making six home visits. The purpose of these visits was to meet youngsters who have become orphaned due to AIDS. Our guide, Rev. Jonas Balami, is a coordinator with the HUYAWA Program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzanias (ELCT) Northwestern Diocese. The word, HUYAWA, comes from Huduma ya Watoto, which means service for children. HUYAWAs focus is the support of children who are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. This special unit began in 1989 and is provided to all orphans, regardless of creed or cultural background. Presently (2002) there are about 58,000 registered orphans in this region, but due to financial limitations this program provides support to only 40,000 children.

On this particular day Pastor Jonas took our group of six into a settlement community called Kajunguti. This settlement had been purchased by the church from the Tanzanian government in the 1980s. The church has since identified different families that were without property and has given them shambas (plots of land) on which to build their homes and grow crops to live on.

We visited several family groups in this community. After parking our van along a dirt road, we took a narrow pathway in and among tall banana plants and maize stalks. One could not see any houses from our starting vantage point. Rounding a bend in the path, we came across the first house a mud and stick hut with a thatched roof. Pretty basic.

We met Venant, maternal uncle and guardian to his sisters four children, ages 21, 19, 18, and 15. Venants situation is not unusual here in Africa. When childrens parents die of HIV/AIDS, extended family members often step in to care for those orphaned. However, with nuclear family groups barely subsisting on their own shambas, and with the average number of children in a nuclear family being six, the extra care of added family members stresses the entire family system. We noticed, as we walked past Venants house to make our next home visit, that there were animals in pens behind the house a cow and a few chickens. I interpreted that to be a healthy sign that the children were probably getting some milk and eggs in their diet in addition to maize and bananas.

Next we visited Julianus and his sisters. Julianus is 17 years old, the oldest of five children and the only remaining male member of his nuclear family. Their mother died in 1996 and their father in 1999. The family had moved to this settlement in 1987, so Julianus and his sisters are fortunate to have their own house (mud and sticks, dirt floor, thatched roof) and shamba. This sturdy, mature-looking young lad finished primary school (seven years of schooling) in 2000. Although he had wanted to continue with his studies, he needed to stop his education in order to support his younger sisters by growing and selling crops. Julianus is one intelligent, observant young man. Visiting the marketplace in town, he noticed that green bell peppers were bringing the best prices. So he got seeds from a friend and is presently growing pepper plants as a cash crop. With this income he pays school fees and buys school uniforms for his sisters. There is not enough money, however, for these kids to own shoes or to have a mattress to sleep on.

Julianus proudly stood in the midst of his well-tended pepper plants as we learned about him and his sisters. His 11-year old sister, Donatila, was home during our visit. Her eyes beamed up at her older brother as they both stood there. She obviously is very close to Julianus. One senses a strong solidarity and a determination to succeed with these orphaned children.

In the afternoon Pastor Jonas took us to a different village outside the town of Bukoba. We made a few more home visits. To reach these homes we traveled by van on an almost unperceivable, overgrown lane which veered off the main dirt road. Winding around the omnipresent banana plants and a scattering of ancient, gnarled trees (These trees are called holy trees, at the base of which sacrifices are made. They are never cut down, in deference to traditional Tanzanian religious practices), we came upon the traditionally built, round thatched home of Feliciana. At age 27, Feliciana has lost her husband to AIDS and recently has learned that she, herself, is HIV-positive. Besides her own two children, ages three and four, she is caretaker of two other children who were willed to her by her dear friend who died of AIDS in 1996. These two children, who are 16-year old fraternal twins, have stopped their own schooling in order to take care of Feliciana and her young family.

To complicate further the difficulties this family faces, the twins shamba was confiscated by a neighbor. Presently HUYAWA is intervening to attempt to reclaim this property for the twins. The first attempt through the primary court system was unsuccessful. An appeal to a higher court is in process. Life is not easy nor is it just for AIDS orphans.

We then walked through a maze of pathways in the bush to make our next visit at the home of 16-year old Denisia and her two younger brothers. Both parents have died of AIDS, their mother having died just this past April 2001. During the dying process, Denisia took care of her mother and her brothers. Her school attendance was spotty and, thus, her academic performance was unimpressive. Denisia had more serious matters to deal with. Now she heads the family unit. HUYAWA was prepared to send her to boarding school, but then who would have cared for her brothers? Instead, HUYAWA has bought Denisia a bicycle so that her 8-kilometer ride to and from school each day takes less time and she can devote more energy to scavenge for food to feed her family. When we met Denisia, it was evident that she was depressed. Her eyes filled up with tears as she related her story. How will she ever have the strength to raise her young brothers?

There is a man in this village an older man who is rather like a guardian of these AIDS orphans. He peddles his bicycle around this little community, keeping tabs on these kids. When he notices a severe problem, he bikes into Bukoba to the church office and reports his findings. He is a blessing to this little village and its orphans. We were privileged to meet him as he accompanied us in our home visiting excursion.

The last home visit of the day most poignantly demonstrated the tragedy of losing ones mother in the first few years of a childs life and its ramifications in an African village such as these we visited. We met Donat, who at age 44 lost his wife to AIDS in August 2001. Left were their older son, age 6, and twin boys, now two years old. When we sat down on freshly laid grass to cover their dirt floor inside their home, I thought that the twins looked to be less than a year old, so malnourished and undersized were they. One of the boys was unable to sit up by himself and emitted a soft whiny cry during most of the time we were there.

Pastor Jonas told us that HUYAWA learned about this family in December. He related that on his first visit the twins looked much worse than they did on the day of our visit. Hard to believe. Per arrangements through HUYAWA, special food for the twins has been brought to the family and plans have been made for them to be hospitalized to evaluate their physical and mental condition and needs.

Donat himself has a physical disability. He was born with club feet, a condition that was never treated. This was especially meaningful to me, the mother of a son who was born with a similar problem. The difference was that my son was born in America and of parents who recognized and could afford to pay for proper and timely medical intervention. Our son is completely normal because of this early intervention. It simply points out what a difference good medical care early in a persons life can make in the entire life of an individual and what can result without that good care. Donat wears special sandals and manages to take care of his family as best he can. He also has the responsibility of caring for his 14-year old niece, whose parents died of AIDS years ago. She has now dropped out of school to help Donat care for the twins.

As we observed Pastor Jonas minister to the families we visited, we saw pastoral ministry at its most profound and literally at its most grass roots level. Home visits meant sitting on dirt floors, listening to what problems they had, and then evaluating what HUYAWA could do to support these families in their own communities. The philosophy of this program is to keep the AIDS orphans, if at all possible, in their own home communities. This means supporting the extended families through payment of school tuition, funds for school clothing and school supplies as well as sometimes supplementing the families food and household goods. A key factor here is community support and keeping these children among those who know them and love them.

In this day filled with home visits we saw our church in action. We saw hope, trust and yes expectation that the church would be there. We saw tremendous need that continues to go unmet. But something we didnt expect was that we received some gifts that day. We saw deep-seated commitment of adults to children and of children to other children. We saw a strength and breadth of faith in action. We know now that we have a true partnership with our Christian brothers and sisters in Africa. They have as much to give us in teaching us to put our faith in action as we have material resources to give to them.

Lets commit ourselves to stand together with our African brothers and sisters. We have much to share with one another.

African Reflections 1 3

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