The AHOPE goal is to try to keep orphaned children with their families. In most cases, due to the ongoing stigma attached to AIDS, an HIV+ child does not have anyone who is willing to take them in and care for them. In some cases, an HIV+ child has an extended family member that is willing to care for them but may not have the means to feed or clothe or educate them. Nor are they prepared to deal with the nutritional and hygienic issues related to an HIV+ child. That’s why AHOPE has the Child Development Center (CDC). These children get the support they need from the CDC.
The Child Development Center was opened in September of 2007 in Addis Ababa. It has the capacity to assist 100 children and their guardians and is designed as a model that is suitable for replication in other needy areas as funding allows.
Because of the extensive poverty throughout Ethiopia, AHOPE often needs to provide significant support to keep families intact. The children who come to the CDC every day are given nutritious food, clothing, psycho-social support and schooling regardless of their family circumstances. Full day care is provided for infants and toddlers so their guardians can endeavor to provide for the family. There is an in-house pre-school for the youngest children. For the older children, AHOPE pays school fees, buys uniforms, and books, etc. They can also attend before-school and after-school programs that include tutoring and fun, playful and creative activities. Medical care is provided including antiretroviral therapy as needed.
If you are an elderly aunt or grandmother that is now taking care of a young nephew or granddaughter that is HIV+, there is a lot that you need to know. In addition to working with the children, AHOPE provides training to the guardians of the children. This way, the families are more able to understand the nutrition, hygiene, and medical needs of an HIV infected person, as well as give them other skills that contribute to a healthy environment for the children and their families.
This Center is truly a place where the entire community can find hope for the future.
The AHOPE Library and Fighting Stigma
While the Center is the hub of the neighborhood, the library is the nucleus of the Center. The primary goal is of course to provide library services to the neighborhood. We are working every day to build the library. First we need to fill it with books, but we also want to make it a comprehensive resource center for reading and learning. In the near future the plan is to add computers and someday internet service. All the neighborhood children are welcome to come and use the library.
As a neighborhood “gathering place,” the AHOPE children naturally interact with other non–HIV+ children from the community. This interaction illustrates another underlying theme, but big piece of AHOPE’s mission – to fight the stigma still very much associated with people who are HIV+. The CDC encourages the children of AHOPE to socialize with other children and adults of the community in a natural social setting. There is also ongoing training for families and the community. They learn sensitization to HIV issues, set straight the myths of HIV and AIDS, and create community cohesiveness and mobilization. There is a significant need and thus a major effort to combat stigma. One way is to make sure the children are not isolated. By design, they all attend various schools. By spreading them out their status as orphans and especially as HIV infected orphans is minimized among the school population.
This is another way AHOPE works to decrease stigma and discrimination against the HIV+ children.
The Community Outreach Program
In addition to the services provided by AHOPE’s Child Development Center, AHOPE’s outreach also includes home-based care. AHOPE’s community outreach program is for children who live too far away from the CDC to come there every day. This program enables orphaned children to remain within their extended families and culture while receiving medical care, education, food and other services. For HIV+ children who do not come to the CDC each day, AHOPE sends a social worker and a nurse to them once or twice a month. They provide the child with medical care, especially anti-retrovirals that are critically important. But they also bring nutritious food, and other provisions as needed by that child.