By Mufuh Ramiro
AIDS Orphans are children whose parents have died of AIDS. Children of this loop most often than not are victims of stigma, neglect, untimely dead and discrimination in their communities.
Figures from UNICEF revealed that, amongst the 165 million orphans living in the World, 15million of them are orphaned by AIDS, and about 11 million of the AIDS orphans reside in Sub Saharan Africa including Cameroon.
Despite efforts to reduce the number of people dying of AIDS in Cameroon, more and more deaths are still being recorded. As a result, the number of children orphaned by AIDS is constantly increasing too.
There are approximately 1.5 million orphans living in Cameroon, about 325,000 (22%) are AIDS orphans. This figure is projected to reach 350,000 by 2020 if the spread of HIV is not properly checked.
In order to instill hope especially for AIDS orphans, the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services AIDS Care and Prevention Program initiated the Chosen Children Program (CCP) in July 2001.
The objective of CCP is to assist and support AIDS orphans to stay in families (“caregivers”) who will protect them and provide them with a safe and stable home environment.
On May 7, 2018, CCP joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World AIDS Orphan Day under the theme, “All lives have equal value” inspired by Matthew 19:14.
CCP currently takes care of 3,025 orphans drawn from across the Cameroon; 89 are HIV positive and 5 of them are sickle cell patients.
One may need to have an idea on how CCP helps these children. “When we accept or trace a child, we hand them to caregivers, we help them in their education for those who are intelligent and love to go to school. We also teach them business skills and help those who can do business to start small businesses,” says Silvia Fonyuy, CCP Coordinator for the Southwest Region.
“We take care of their medication and follow up with them until they are mature enough to carry along.
“We listen to their stories, we counsel them, we organize workshops and teach them Bible lessons, educate them on HIV and AIDS, sex education, art and craft works, etc. They also carry out sporting activities and other plays during these workshops,” Silvia added.
Bernard Odrey (not his real name), aged 19 is one of the children who have been benefiting from the CCP for close to 8 years. His life has been greatly impacted by the program. “I am so happy to be a ‘Chosen child’. I lost my mom when I was 10. CCP has been more like a mother to me. They [CCP staff] make me feel lively even when things are down,” he says.
Bernard is now a Level 2 student in one of the State Universities, and a peer educator for adolescents living with HIV age 10-24. He dreams of becoming a Humanitarian Economist.
For the past 17 years of its existence, CCP has encountered various challenges. Real Akusembom, one of the program facilitators and mentor, says some of the challenges they face are due to the fact that many of the children live with the feeling of missing a parent or both.
“The children are from diverse backgrounds and distant places making it difficult to assemble them together when there is need”, she said.
To Real, things can be better if the children are assembled and engaged in pleasurable activities together frequently. She says there is the need for the children to play together, go for leisure trips together frequently and have the opportunity to meet their brothers and sisters in other regions to help them feel excited and have a sense of belonging.
“The system of some carriers, become resistant to anti-retroviral. Others deliberately become stubborn and create problems with their caregivers who are most often poor widows,” added Real.
Despite these challenges, CCP has recorded significant achievements over the years which Pastor Bambo Denis, CCP Administrator, is happy to talk about.
“In the past years we [CCP] have produced a medical doctor (Dentist), a public works technician, 11 nurses, 25 school teachers, 5 hotel managers, 40 carpenters, 25 hairdressers, 13 builders, 55 tailors/seamstresses, and 210 are happily married. Presently, 112 caregivers operate small businesses that help them to sustain their families,” narrated Pastor Bambo.
“The prompt medical assistance has improved the health of most of children especially those with HIV regularly on antiretroviral drugs.”
Thanks to the activities of the CCP discrimination against AIDS orphans in the communities where the program operates has significantly reduced. Many AIDS Orphans now go to school and others are gainfully employed.