In Uganda, approximately 96,000 children under the age of 14 are HIV-positive. Sarah is one of them. My colleague Christine Ennulat met 9-year-old Sarah (not her real name, to protect her privacy) during a visit earlier this year to Gulu, Uganda. The meeting was emotionally overwhelming, because Sarah wasn’t eating enough nutritious food for her antiretroviral medications to take effect. The little girl, who had lost her parents and a younger sister to the disease, was in the care of her grandmother, Irene, who makes a living by selling small fish in the market. They were eating one meal a day.
This is just one facet of the complex HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Antiretroviral medications can prevent pregnant women from passing on the virus to their unborn children, and they help keep positive children healthier. But only if they have access to these medications, and only if they have healthy food and clean water. ChildFund and others are working to reach the United Nations’ goal to end HIV infections by 2030, but it is an uphill battle, even in places like Gulu, where there is help for families.
Sarah’s family is one of many that benefit from ChildFund’s USAID-funded project, Deinstitutionalization of Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Uganda (DOVCU). Their roof was repaired, and her brother has received carpentry training. Irene was able to purchase a pair of geese. But there are many children in similar situations as Sarah. Some succeed and flourish, while others continue to struggle. At least Sarah is still smiling.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In the rural region of Jinja in eastern Uganda, the lands are green and lush. “It’s beautiful,” says Linda Williamson, who has been there twice to visit her sponsored child. “Their roads are rough. They’re dirt roads, and they’re hard to get by. The homes are very modest, and they’re mostly brick with tin roofs.”
The water is clean, but there is no electricity in the small community where 24-year-old Erie and his family live. Cell phones work occasionally.
The town of Jinja is a commercial center on the shores of Lake Victoria and the Nile River’s headwaters, but Erie’s family lives in a remote community where subsistence farming is a normal way of life. HIV and AIDS have had a devastating impact on families, as well as other health problems such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea. In Uganda, an estimated 2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. Floods and droughts affect everyone’s ability to grow crops and maintain food security.
“They are really concerned about climate change,” Linda says of Erie’s family and others who live in his village. “They can’t anticipate the seasons’ changes the way they could before.” This can lead to food shortages, but as many other sponsors have noted after their visits, families often serve their visitors entire banquets to show their hospitality.
It was the same for Linda, who spent a day with Erie’s family and community leaders earlier this year. “There were so many people there who were trying to make this day special. There was so much food!”
Erie himself is shy and a delayed learner, Linda says, but during this visit, “he’d come and hold my hand and sit next to me.” His mother, in contrast, is very gregarious.
Sixteen years ago, Linda received a financial gift from a relative for Christmas, and she decided after seeing a ChildFund commercial (then Christian Children’s Fund) that she would use the money to sponsor a child. Her first visit to see Erie and his family was in 2008, and since then, they’ve become even closer. Now that Erie is close to aging out of sponsorship, Linda is planning to sponsor one of his younger siblings.
“I’m very bonded not only to Erie, but to his younger siblings and the whole family,” she says. “This is like my family in Uganda. This is a big part of my life, having this relationship for the past 16 years. My friends and family know about my family in Uganda. When I go to Uganda or do something for Erie, I’m the one who’s blessed.”
Each fall, the pictures of children with their goats show up. They are adorable, without fail. Look at Annet, holding her baby goat in the picture above!
Of course, goats mean a great deal to many families ChildFund works with. Goats produce milk, which can become cheese, and they reproduce quickly. A small herd of goats can help keep children well nourished and provide families with extra income when they sell surplus milk and cheese.
Just before the holidays, we release our Real Gifts Catalog, offering items requested by families in countries around the world. Goats are a perennial favorite, both of families and donors.
My colleague in Kenya, Maureen Siele, interviewed a man whose family received a goat through ChildFund’s catalog (which you can find online here). Daniel says, “Before we received the goat, we were not as healthy as we are today. We rarely drank milk. Occasionally, we would buy milk, but it is very expensive. We could not afford even to make proper tea. We also struggled to buy other household items like sugar and flour, because I did not have the money that I am currently making from selling the surplus milk.”
And today, they have four goats. It’s a great start for a family in need.
Video by Jake Lyell
In Uganda, videographer Jake Lyell was busy filming families who are struggling to stay together while coping with acute poverty and need. We’ll share these videos with you soon — they’re a tribute to the strength and determination of parents, children and others in their communities, as well as demonstrating the positive effect of outside support. In the meantime, watch Jake’s short video of 11-year-old Sarah, who shows us how she made her own doll.
Photos by Gertrude Apio
Along with videos, ChildFund staff members also chose a winning slideshow as part of our 2016 Community Video Contest. The photos come from Jinja Area Communities’ Federation (JIACOFE), which serves the Jinja, Kamuli and Mayuge districts of Uganda.
According to Meg Carter, who runs the video contest (and is our sponsorship education specialist), “Jinja is the source of the Nile River, and it’s a beautiful area located on the shores of Lake Victoria and the Nile. It’s famous for whitewater rafting and bird-watching. I’ve been there many times, as it’s on the road from Busia (where I lived) and the capital, Kampala. It’s about two hours’ drive from Kampala.”
Thank you to Gertrude Apio for taking these photographs and ChildFund Uganda’s Sharon Ishimwe for gathering information for the captions. Now, meet some of the children of Jinja!
This video — an honorable mention in ChildFund’s 2016 Community Video Contest — comes from the Lango sub-region in northern Uganda. Watch how three children have way too much fun knocking mangoes out of trees. Soon, we’ll feature the top three videos here, but you can see more honorable mention videos filmed by children and staff members at ChildFund’s local partner organizations, giving us a peek at life in communities where we work. Have fun! Have a mango!
If you’re thinking of becoming a sponsor, don’t take it from us. Take it from former sponsored children: You matter. We hear from many young adults who are involved in careers, higher education and leadership roles that they never expected to achieve before someone sponsored them as children. Your consistent support and encouragement help them pursue many kinds of dreams and even pass on your generosity to future generations. Here are just a few examples.
Paul, a teacher in Uganda: “My sponsor used to inspire me through the letters he sent. I used to wait so eagerly for his response whenever I wrote to him. He always reminded me to work hard at school.”
Makeshwar, a community leader in India: “We will always remain indebted to ChildFund and our sponsors. We have taken a vow, and we will continue to serve underprivileged children and help them live with dignity.”
Lidiane, a business owner in Brazil: “Today I am a warrior, a hardworking and brave woman, fighting for my goals and dreams, and you are part of this. I wish I could say more to you, but I can write a thousand words here and still would not demonstrate what you represent in my life story.”
Else, a nursing student in Indonesia: “I want to help cure people. My favorite subject is pediatric nursing. I love taking care of young children. Soon, I will be working in a hospital helping young children in need.”
Uganda has a serious malaria problem, with every single resident of the country considered at risk of contracting the mosquito-borne disease and infection rates growing in refugee camps in the north. Children under the age of 5 are particularly vulnerable to malaria, representing seven out of 10 deaths related to the disease, which causes fever, nausea and other flu-like symptoms. Last year, 438,000 people died from malaria, 80 percent of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria is preventable and treatable, although many people in Africa don’t have the resources available to avoid it. In Uganda’s Kiyuni Parish, though, we’ve seen an improvement in rates of the disease because of support from ChildFund and our local partners, which have trained health workers and provided families with insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
You can read more about what’s happening in Kiyuni in a report from ChildFund Uganda, but let’s hear from Batulabudde Vincent, a laboratory assistant from Kiyuni Health Center, who has seen the difference with his own eyes: “I thank ChildFund and their malaria project for the great work they have done to reduce malaria through distributing mosquito nets and taking blood samples. Those found to have malaria parasites are given medicine. I thank them so much because since the time I came here, malaria rates have reduced, and death among children has also reduced.”
This week on our website, we have favorite recipes from our national offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guinea, Honduras, India, Uganda and the United States. We hope you’ll give them a try, and we have a few more recipes below for dishes suggested by ChildFund staff members around the world. You may need to visit a specialty or international grocery store, or order an ingredient online, but don’t let that deter you. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite dish or learn something you didn’t know about your sponsored child’s home cuisine. Post a picture on our Facebook page if you decide to cook a new dish, and happy eating!
From Bolivia: Pique Macho, as seen in the picture.
From Timor-Leste: Koto, or Red Bean Soup, is akin to a familiar Portuguese soup and Brazil’s national dish, feijoada. Portuguese is spoken in Timor-Leste and Brazil, so it’s not surprising that the same recipes would pass through their populations, too, with adjustments for taste and ingredients’ availability. Because red (or kidney) beans are more common than black beans in Timor-Leste, cooks use them in their soup, and pork or beef can replace chorizo.
From Uganda: Beef and Groundnut (Peanut) Stew; Katogo. Katogo is a dish made with tripe or sweetmeats (also known as offal) and matoke, a green and savory banana similar to a plantain. Are you feeling adventurous?
Reporting by Mark Can, Punena Parish HIV/AIDS Project Officer
A young mother, 32-year-old Lakot, describes her life after being diagnosed with HIV. Two years ago, she joined a ChildFund-supported group in her village in northern Uganda, which has allowed her to receive support from people going through similar challenges. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. In Uganda, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV, according to 2014 statistics from UNAIDS, and most people in sub-Saharan Africa are either directly or indirectly affected by the disease.
I joined the family support group 2 years ago. Before I joined, life was hard. I was living in fear and isolation because I was HIV positive.
After joining the group, life became easier. From the other members, I learned a lot about how to take care of myself and my family. I sometimes used to forget to take my medication, but the group members remind me, and if I need it, they escort me to pick up my drugs. Now I have no fear of living with the disease.
I also realized that I was not alone and that I could freely live and talk about it. That’s why I am even free to talk to you right now.
In the process of our meetings, we decided that we needed to save some money to support ourselves in times of need. So, we started the bol chup (village savings and loan) group. We meet every Monday and collect money after our support meetings. This group helps us when we are in need of money; we borrow funds and pay them back with little interest.
Because of the family support group meetings, I realized the need to disclose my status to my children.
I am appealing to the government and to nongovernmental organizations asking they support our groups more, in terms of finances and sponsorship for our children, so they can continue to study in school.
From Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia:
James Pimundu, national director of ChildFund The Gambia, shared his thoughts about the United Nations’ goal to end the spread of HIV by 2030. He also highlighted the need to reflect on the challenges faced during the past in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Pimundu called for strong partnership with other international nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and civil groups to complement government initiatives.
He also touched on the impact that HIV and AIDS have on people’s lives, especially in the area of child mortality: “It creates marginalization of those infected due to the stigma attached to its name. This can hinder the fight for control and, by extension, eradication of the disease. ChildFund believes that through engagement with marginalized people — and using the power of advocacy, community mobilization and a host of other strategies to reach those affected directly and indirectly — will help us succeed in the total eradication of HIV and AIDS by the year 2030.”
Finally, Pimundu called for changes in attitude, bringing about greater support and understanding of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Together, our collaborative actions will certainly bring a halt to the spread of the disease, he added.