Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation

 

In the UN’s 2011 World Aids Day Report, Michael Sidibe, the ‘UNAIDS Executive Director’ and ‘UN Under Secretary General’ wrote; “We are on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the AIDS response. The vision of a world with zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths has captured the imagination of diverse partners, stakeholders and people living with and affected by HIV”.

The report gives some positive statistics that suggest that the fight against HIV infection is slowly being won. For example, in 1990, there were approximately 10 million people who were infected with HIV, and this rose to around 27 million by the turn of the millennium, showing a huge percentage increase, but the rate of increase slowed in the proceeding 10 years, moving to approximately 34 million in 2010. Most significantly, “the number of people dying of AIDS-related causes fell to 1.8 million…in 2010, down from a peak of 2.2 million…in the mid-2000s. A total of 2.5 million deaths have been averted in low- and middle-income countries since 1995 due to antiretroviral therapy being introduced.

However, do these statistics given a realistic snapshot of work on the ground, where real-life cases are dealt with every day? From our work with street children, their families and their communities, street children in Thika typically come from poor and often challenging households in slums, commonly headed by single-mothers who are unable to consistently provide their children with basic survival needs. Extreme urban poverty is the primary driving force behind children leaving school and taking to the streets, but this is often accompanied by other catalysts such as parents and guardians being involved in illicit brewing, caregivers becoming sick, as well as alcohol dependence. These push factors are then combined with pull factors, where peer pressure from older street children, substance abuse (glue) and the presence of food or money through begging or odd jobs mean children, once on the street, can be stuck in what looks like a closed cycle, and can act as barriers to school and home re-entry.

Street children caught in this cycle are increasingly at risk from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, due to the culture of having multiple sexual partners, low rates of condom use, as well as children often having sex whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Due to these health risks, street life has significant health consequences. Street children are often a hidden statistic, a portion of the population that do not have the same access to education, to medical and social services, that other groups have, and their lifestyle and living environment see HIV/Aids, as well as respiratory and skin diseases, as the leading causes of mortality among street children.

On World’s AIDS Day 2012, the theme is “Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation”, and we continue to partnership through education as the long term key to eliminating the problem of children living on the streets and thereby limiting the vulnerability of this oft neglected population to these situations that can lead to infection. Part of the work AfCiC does, and particularly our Children Lead the Way programme, is to educate children and young people in our schools, communities, homes and, unfortunately, on the street, about the dangers of contracting HIV/AIDS, as well as the practicalities about how it can be caught. There are many ways in which we do this; we speak to the children in informal meetings as they attend our outreach centre; we go to local schools to teach children about their rights, and how sexual abuse, one of the main routes through which the virus is passed on, can be avoided; and we run workshops around the Thika municipality to bring teachers, village elders and community leaders together to empower people in responsibility to pass on the basic messages about HIV/AIDS.

On the 21st November, less than two weeks ago, AfCiC brought together over 100 children, teachers and facilitators to build on this work in a day at Kisiwa Primary school, in an inter-school Child Rights Club completion involving 7 local schools and culminating in a frenzy of award giving and celebration. The competition, which included children competing in everything from dancing, poetry, fashion modelling, public speaking, essay writing, singing and drawing, was used to encourage children to think about HIV/AIDS, and what influence they might have amongst their peers to spread the messages they have received. In particular, the essay writing competition asked children to write about child labour, and how exposure to informal work at a very young age can lead children to be in situations that are more susceptible to catching HIV. It was shocking for some, particular those not from the local culture, to read these essays and consider just how much exposure children in Thika have to HIV, and how they have been individually affected by it. The essay that was judged to have won the competition combined practical understanding of the virus with some vivid descriptions of its devastating effects, but was one of many written by children between 10 and 13, that provided a sobering reminder of the realities that children are tragically exposed to in Thika and beyond.

As well as the essays, the public speaking competition also tasked a different set of children with presenting their case on how children can play a key part in eradicating, or at least reducing, the stigmatisation and discrimination that comes wrapped up with the HIV virus, and what small things they can do to help. Again, the clarity and substance to these presentations, which they were asked to present having been given 30 minutes’ notice of the topic, was incredible, and all the children who were involved in this particular task, and the competition as a whole, should be so proud of their efforts. We put together a short video about the day which shows some of the talents on show, and you can see that here.

In a small way, the whole day again raised awareness of the dangers involved with HIV/AIDS. On the 1st December itself, AfCiC, with support from Save the Children International, is partnering with the Ministry of Health and the Constituency Aids Committees in 4 districts, supporting celebrations and awareness events in Thika (Mama Ngina Gardens), Gatundu South (Igegania sub-district hospital) and Gatanga (Gatura Health Centre), and all these activities together go towards promoting the pledge made by Michael Sidibe above involving ‘zero discrimination’. Whilst reducing the amount of new infections is paramount, particularly in neglected populations such as street children, helping those who already have the virus, as well as their friends and family, is key to reducing the stigma and discrimination attached to the virus that the boys and girls so eloquently described by children last week.

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Universal Children’s Day

Today, 20th November, marks the adoption of two groundbreaking pieces of legislation that have attempted to help governments, institutions and individuals around the world understand the importance of children, and the rights that they have.

In 1954, the UN General Assembly established the UN Declaration for the Rights of the Child, designed to protect children working long hours in dangerous circumstances, and to allow all children access to education. On the same day in 1989, this was expanded through the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), detailing the rights that every child has, including the right to life, the right to education, the right to protection, the right to nationality, the right to, where possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents, and the right to identity.

At AfCiC, we have come to understand that just because these rights exist, it doesn’t mean that children are able to claim these rights as their own. Through a combination of being denied these rights by their elders or bigger institutions, or through purely not knowing what their own rights are, children are still subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse, and are often neglected to the extent that they have no food to eat, no roof over their heads at night, no access to healthcare, and no means to receive an education. We work with some amazing children, some of whom have experienced life situations that are sometimes beyond comprehension for most of us.

However, tragically, the experiences of these children are replicated throughout the world; from Bangladesh to Brazil and from Romania to Rwanda. In 2005, the UN adopted 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and this builds on the UNCRC in bringing together in agreement all the world’s governments, bar two, as well as the world’s leading development institutions, in a drive to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people, and the vulnerable children who often suffer to the greatest extent. The goals each have their own matrices to help analysts work to evaluate success against these goals, and it is clear that incredible progress is being made in achieving these targets, in some form, by 2015.

At AfCiC specifically, there are signs of hope showing that the work that we do is giving each child we work with a change to succeed. For example, we have recently had 3 children accepted into Kenyan universities who we have been working with for many years, and who have been helped through our Child Sponsorship scheme, and we work with a huge variety of children and youth who are now in sustainable employment through our Into Work scheme. We also work with families, helping them to find Income Generating Activities (IGA’s) which can sometimes provide them with enough money to buy a school uniform for their child, or to pay for a bag of maize that they otherwise may not have had. To continue doing the work we do, and to do it better, we need your help. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving money – it can be as simple as ‘liking’ us on facebook, and asking just two of your friends to do the same, or it could mean asking your local church or primary school to use AfCiC as their Christmas charity.

On Universal Children’s Day 2012, we would ask you to take the small step of making the rest of your family aware of what we do, or asking 5 friends to come to our website or facebook page or twitter page. Sharing in this way is free and of minimal effort, and is something we can all do in 5 minutes. We would love you to be involved in some way with what we do so please, if you would like further information about what we do, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us.