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Oct 27, 2016

The impact of HIV on the life of a child

The Wellness Wagon provides mobile healthcare
The Wellness Wagon provides mobile healthcare

Starfish Greathearts Foundation recently conducted a community profiling exercise at Loaves and Fishes Network in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, to determine the impact that your donations have had on the lives of children affected by HIV in that community.

The results found that the Eastern Cape has a poorer socioeconomic and health status than the average for all the provinces of South Africa. People linked to the daycare centers in Newlands demonstrated first-hand knowledge of what living with HIV entails for adults and children within families. Children in the community are living in an area of high HIV and TB prevalence, and your support of Starfish USA ensures that local daycare centers, like Loaves and Fishes Network, are equipped to protect the health and wellbeing of these young children.

In the community, half of the children do not live with their parents, but with their grandmothers where the households are heavily reliant on social grants. The underpinning situation of poverty translates to poor nutrition, limits access to quality health services and a deprived physical environment, driving the reported social ills of substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. 

HIV and AIDS are highly stigmatized, even though the majority of the respondents personally knew people living with HIV and AIDS. The HIV prevalence amongst women attending clinics in the area is almost 30% and over a quarter of the mothers of children attending the daycare centers are living with HIV.

To mitigate the negative impact of HIV/AIDS on the wellbeing of children in the Newlands community, Starfish is working to ensure that the daycare centers we support serve as a resource for knowledge and support on health related issues, in addition to ensuring school readiness for the young children.

Your donation helps Starfish:

  • Train teaching staff and guardians on HIV and AIDS, TB, and management of childhood illness
  • Provide testing for HIV and screening for TB through the Starfish Wellness Wagon, a mobile clinic
  • Provide healthcare screening through the Wellness Wagon for malnutrition, immunization and developmental milestones
  • Provide transport to hospital or healthcare specialists, where necessary
  • Train social workers to improve the general environment for children

This would help to the reduce the stigma of HIV, creating conditions where more parents and caregivers could get tested and take their HIV-exposed children for testing, followed by support for those on treatment, through establishing of adherence clubs. The daycare centers make a meaningful contribution to addressing the context of the generalized HIV epidemic existing in Newlands.

Statistics show the high burden of HIV disease in South Africa as a whole and in the Eastern Cape in particular. Almost one third of pregnant women in the Eastern Cape were HIV positive, leading to a requirement for a strong prevention of mother to child transmission program, ongoing linkage to care for women, and monitoring of the status of babies. Those children who become infected with HIV need to be linked to the health system for treatment, care and support.

There is simultaneously a great awareness of HIV, and strong stigma attached to the disease, and the majority of people interviewed were reluctant to talk about HIV. During the survey, participants were asked to describe how HIV affects a child who is living with the disease:

“Children are treated differently. Some children are not told their status, especially when they are young. Other children, especially older children, are told their status, and then have to deal with the knowledge.”

“A child who is HIV positive is not different from the negative one, they both live the same life”.

“The child has to face life so it is difficult, but the child still has to face life”.

“Sometimes the child cannot go to school due to sickness”.

Children who are HIV positive may experience stigma from the community. As the child gets older, and his/her status is disclosed, children may feel confused, isolated from their peers and their family, and uncertain of whether they will survive. When on antiretroviral treatment, they may experience difficulties with accessing treatment and being adherent due to stigma

Sadly, the people living in the Newlands community are all too well acquainted with HIV and its devastating effects on the community, and more specifically on their children. 

Support Starfish and help these children affected with HIV take up the challenge of living positively with the disease and live their lives to the fullest.

Growing food gardens to feed hungry children
Growing food gardens to feed hungry children
Donate to bring smiles to children in South Africa
Donate to bring smiles to children in South Africa
Training on HIV and childhood illnesses
Training on HIV and childhood illnesses
Providing HIV and TB testing in our mobile clinic
Providing HIV and TB testing in our mobile clinic

Links:

Jul 28, 2016

We've come so far and stand so close to ending it

Hot meals made with love and smiles!
Hot meals made with love and smiles!

Just over a week ago world leaders and the heads of major foundations met in Durban for the 21st International AIDS Conference. The aim - to discuss how to end the AIDS epidemic.

403 miles away in Ikageng, 8 year-old Sielo is living the reality of the horrors of AIDS. Her mother died a few weeks ago leaving Sielo and her little brother Mbele completely alone in the world - their father died last May. They’ve been living in the Ikageng children’s home supported by Starfish and headed by Ms Olerato, for just over a week. Sielo and Mbele’s is a heartbreaking story: vulnerable young children in need of a home, but sadly it’s not unique. UNICEF estimates that nearly half of the 3.7 million orphans in South Africa lost one or both of their parents to HIV.

There is nothing more traumatic for a child than to see their parents die. Once orphaned, these children are then far more likely to be abused or exploited. Sielo knew this when she and her brother, who is only 6 years old, walked the near 11 miles to the children’s home from their village. Looking at them now, sat so closely together in complete unmoving silence on the tiniest patch of grass in the playground, I have to fight every instinct not to run to them and pull them into a hug. They should be running around and playing, like children should, not mourning the loss of another parent in the courtyard of orphanage. Ms Olerato, the sweetest woman you could ever hope to meet, tells me that Mbele cries less and less everyday, and the counselling the two children receive at Ikageng is truly helping. As well as psychological support, Ikageng provides school books and uniforms to get children into school, and has early education and after-school programs open to children in the area as well. They are big proponents of a holistic childcare system that encourages education as an HIV/AIDS prevention tool - Ikageng boasts an impressive number of children who graduate high school and leave for university. This belief isn’t unfounded, countless of studies from UNAIDS have shown that people with higher education are far less likely to contract HIV.

Charlize Theron said in her very bold speech at the Durban Conference, that we - yes even you! - have the power to end the AIDS epidemic, and she was right, we as a global society do have all the tools we need. Your donation to Starfish helps us use epidemic-ending tools like HIV testing, public awareness education, providing ARV (anti-retroviral) medication, and supporting children like Sielo with the help of community resources like Ikageng. Your donation helps places like Ikageng lift Sielo out of an AIDS cycle she has unwittingly been forced into, where left vulnerable unloved and uneducated she faces a 31% chance of contracting HIV before her 25th birthday, and a 56% chance of being one of the 470,000 deaths due to AIDS by the time she is 30 - just like her mother. The gift you made will turn Sielo’s life in a different direction. With the support she receives from Ikageng, growing up emotionally and materially supported, and empowered through education, Sielo’s children will likely never end up sitting where she is - orphaned due to AIDS.

Make another donation to Starfish and help more children just like Sielo and Mbele out of the horrible cycle of AIDS. The gift you give provides more than just medical testing kits and healthy meals for orphaned children, it really does give vulnerable children a shot at a different future, a much brighter one.

Happy children - just as it should be!
Happy children - just as it should be!

Links:

Apr 25, 2016

The hope of Sebokeng

A little boy playing
A little boy playing

“I asked the local municipality for some land to start a childcare centre, and they gave me a dump site.” Thandi Khanyile reflects on the inauspicious start to what is today Thy Kingdom, a thriving centre in Sebokeng that assists 450 orphaned and vulnerable children from the local community. “I was totally committed to setting up the centre, so I just went ahead anyway.”

That was in 2012. Today, Thy Kingdom is one of the many thriving projects supported by Starfish Greathearts Foundation. When Thandi started building Thy Kingdom, funding was a real challenge. “We had no money” she recalls, “we received a few cash donations and some food and clothing from churches in the area. We couldn’t afford to pay anyone, so we were all working as volunteers, it was tough but Starfish has changed all that. Now we can at least offer a stipend to some of our care-workers and can give proper support to the children.”

Sebokeng, like many parts of South Africa are crippled by poverty, unemployment and crime. In these conditions, children are at risk of starvation, physical and sexual abuse, fatal illness, and have limited access to education. Many of them have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS and live in child-headed households or with ageing grandparents. “I could not sit by and watch this happen. I had to do something,” explains Thandi. “So we turned a dump site into a hope site.”

The former dump site, although still limited in size and lacking proper infrastructure, now has a small playground, flushing toilets for the children, and even a kitchen. But perhaps the most treasured space in Thy Kingdom is the children’s library. Housed in a camping caravan, the collection is humbly stocked with less than 50 books, but it is impeccably neat and well ordered. The obvious care the little boys and girls show each book and toy underscores how special and rare a children’s library is in their community, in fact for many adults too this is the first library they have ever seen.

Thanks to our donors, Thy Kingdom is now able to provide a range of services for young children going all the way up to high school. “Given the pressures on teenagers today, they are just as much in need of care and guidance as the younger ones are. Their needs are just different,” explains Thandi.

The children receive cooked meals every day after school and are given school uniforms and school supplies, but the help they receive goes far beyond their physical needs. “Feeding their bodies is one thing, but feeding their minds and souls is another more important factor,” says Thandi. Every child is offered additional assistance with homework and assigned a dedicated care-worker, who helps them with emotional issues, peer pressure, abuse situations and mentor them with general life orientation.

At the end of my site visit, and a long work week, the care-workers gather in the meeting room for a simple meal of chicken and samp. Some of the staff are on a small stipend, others are simply community-centered volunteers, but they share the same enthusiasm for their work. When asked what their one wish would be for Thy Kingdom, hands shoot into the air. “Space to take in more kids; books for the library; school textbooks and stationery; soccer balls and sports supplies; winter clothing for the kids; computers, no matter how old; more old containers or parkhomes to be turned into offices and teaching rooms”...the list goes on and on.

As the care-workers share their dreams for what Thy Kingdom will one day become, feelings of hope and optimism flood the air. “We don’t have a lot but we will optimise what we have” Thandi says, and I imagine the same fiery determination in her eyes when she first surveyed the dump site in 2012. Her team nods encouragingly around her as she adds, “We need much, much more, not for ourselves but for the children we already serve and for the children who need us but have to be turned away.”

The donations Starfish receives allow our partnering organizations like Thy Kingdom to keep their doors open and grow to serve more children every year. Its 2016 and the dump site has gone; a place of loving care and hope has replaced it. With your generosity, Starfish is able to help the faraway dreams of Thy Kingdom’s care workers a reality, so Thandi and her team can make a real difference for the children of Sebokeng.

Everybody say hi!
Everybody say hi!
Care worker, Sunday and her favorite troop!
Care worker, Sunday and her favorite troop!
 
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