November 29 2002
Stigmatisation against all reason
AIDS and "its" children
02/12/2002 - "My younger brother doesn't seem to love me anymore. He doesn't talk to me. He's rejecting me. But I still love him." Joyce has Aids and tells of her experiences in the SOS Social Centre in Ennerdale, South Africa. It is an experience she shares with millions of other Aids victims. For those affected, the mental hurt is as bad as the infection itself. The aim of the World Aids Day on 1st December is to reduce the destructive manner of thinking, of fear, of prejudice and shame and should promote solidarity with those affected.
Stigmatisation and silence are still the largest obstacles in effectively fighting the Aids pandemic. Ignoring Aids makes it impossible for HIV infected people to talk about it or to receive help. Making it a taboo subject makes it easier for the disease to spread and makes it difficult for the individual to find out what their HIV status is. Neither is it easy for them to find out about how the disease runs its course nor about the possibilities of infection. Isolation and rejection speed up the outbreak of Aids and come to full fruition in a complex interaction of body and soul.
Stigmatisation is a slap in the face for the human rights to dignity and equality. It keeps the viscous circle of ignorance, intolerance, social exclusion and economic poverty going.
The SOS Children's Village Aids programmes being run in the SOS Social Centre centres and SOS Medical Centres, as well as specific curricula in the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools and Kindergartens in the southern and eastern African countries are therefore, based on open workshops, concentrating on educational campaigns. Education and teaching towards tolerance and sympathy are on the daily agenda of the SOS Children's Villages. The anonymous and free Aids tests and consultations being offered at places such as the SOS Medical Centre in Lilongwe (Malawi) help to break down the barriers and protect people's privacy.
The local authorities are supporting the SOS Children's Village's AIDS projects to a great extent. This is an important success factor as far as changing peoples' awareness of HIV/AIDS and how they deal with the people affected by it. Volunteers are helping with home visits to families whose heads are either Aids orphans or the grandparents. This is happening, for example, in Mbabane in Swaziland and in Waterfalls in Zimbabwe. An SOS Children's Village pilot project in the former South African township of QwaQwa in the Freestate Province is working closely together with the authorities and should be able to care for up to 24 Aids orphans. Similar care facilities, with their roots strongly in care for the community, will follow in Lesotho and Swaziland.
AIDS and "its" children
The largest number and the group in most need are the 13.4 million aids orphans in Africa. 11 million alone live in sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF has estimated that this number will increase over the next eight years to 25 million. What is valid for adults affected by Aids is doubly so for the children: They are traumatised by the loss of one or both parents and have no economic security. They are isolated by poverty, mentally overtaxed and excluded from the education process. This means that they are easy targets for violent attacks and sexual abuse. At the end of the day, they run a high risk of contracting HIV themselves.
They are the main target group in SOS Children's Village's Aids projects. Families where the children or the grandparents are the head of the household are being supported and advised over long periods of time, both materially, medically and psychologically (school grants, home helps, provision of food and clothing, medical care, offers of training, etc.). These family programmes are mostly being co-ordinated by the SOS Social Centres and SOS Medical Centres. In some of the projects the volunteers for the home visits are being trained by the SOS Children's Village mothers, who are experts in the field of caring for orphans. Each of the six SOS Children's Villages in South Africa is helping at least five families who are affected by HIV/AIDS.
However, SOS Children's Villages is not just confronted with HIV/AIDS in respect of its community outreach projects or various social deeds, but also in the core of its field of action. SOS Children's Village co-workers in East Africa who are HIV positive are given free antiretroviral medication. There are children with HIV or full-blown Aids living in almost every SOS Children's Village in East Africa and in the countries of southern Africa. They receive intense medical supervision and are supported by their normal familial net of relationships. Small hospices are being set up in the SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe for the children with Aids. This is so that they can be near to their SOS Children's Village mother, brothers and sisters when they are dying.
"The strongest weapon against stigmatisation and silence is the voices of people who talk about it", said UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan on the occasion of this year's World Aids Day. Integration, respect and open debate are essential for all those affected. On the day of action at the SOS Social Centre Ennerdale in South Africa, Joyce, who has Aids, does not need many to describe the results of discrimination: "Stop it! It hurts!"