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Help AIDS Orphans Dig Out of a Hole

Help AIDS Orphans Dig Out of a Hole

 

By Rodolpho Carrasco
November 2004
817 words

[ Rodolpho Carrasco is the executive director of the Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif., a member of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Alumni Hall of Fame, and serves on the board of directors of World Vision. ]

Edward Ruwemba sacrifices himself for his sisters. Since their parents died of AIDS five years ago, Edward has been the provider for his two younger sisters. They live in the rural Ugandan community of Kibaale. After sending his sisters, ages 14 and 13, off to school, he works each day to earn enough money for food. "I used to like school very much, but I had to drop out because there was nobody to keep the home."

They don't have much, but they do have a new house - thanks to sponsorship through Monrovia, Calif.-based World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization. Sponsorship also provides the girls with school supplies, a bicycle for Edward - and help growing coffee as a cash crop. Even with this help, it's hard for Edward to say what the future holds. "I hope the girls complete their studies and get jobs, and then they might be able to help me in turn," he says.

Edward is one of the faces of AIDS at the start of the 21st Century - children orphaned by this pandemic who face dramatic obstacles to adulthood. Worldwide, 22 million people have died of AIDS, and today 40 million people are infected - nearly all in developing countries like Uganda. And tragically, there are 14 million orphaned children like Edward, digging out of desperate holes.

I know about digging out of holes, both professionally and personally. In 14 years at Harambee Center, a Pasadena-area nonprofit reaching out to at-risk children and youth, I've seen youth without parents struggling to grow up. Relative to Uganda, we have a powerful safety net for orphans. I've seen young men take advantage of their opportunities and pursue their life goals and handle their responsibilities.

I was once in their situation. My mother died when I was seven, and my father left us before that. My 20-year-old sister, Yolanda, made great sacrifices to raise me, my brother and my other sister. She leaned heavily on our local church for support. Without Yolanda, the three of us would never have graduated from college.

However, our holes, though challenging, do not compare to what Edward faces. Edward does not have access to services like education and health care that we take for granted. Meanwhile, AIDS continues to ravage his community, and thousands more around the world.

December 1, World AIDS Day, is a time to look at children like Edward and extend a hand to families like his - helping them out of their holes.

Those of us in the faith community should find motivation enough in our religious tenets. James 1:27 tells us to "look after widows and orphans in their distress." Other faiths, too, urge charity towards those who are afflicted. There are also practical concerns about a generation of children growing up without parents. Child soldiers have been used with deadly effectiveness in civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Zaire.

The AIDS pandemic offers younger Americans a chance to mitigate a historical catastrophe. Like many in my generation, I learned a lot in school about global catastrophes of the past that killed millions: famine in the Ukraine and China, the gory excesses of communist dictatorships, the spread of smallpox in the last century, two World Wars, and ethnic cleansings in Africa and Europe. AIDS presents us with another historical opportunity - to find a cure, to derail social practices - including the suppression of women - that cause AIDS, and to demonstrate the compassion Americans should be known for.

The task is daunting. But there are many ways to help. One is advocating on behalf of government policies on AIDS through The One Campaign, a coalition of relief and justice agencies such as DATA, Bread for the World, Oxfam and others.

Billions of dollars are needed to fight AIDS. It's not enough to lean on government for solutions. Private money talks. A number of relief agencies provide opportunities to sponsor children and families rocked by AIDS.

One of the best actions is to influence friends and acquaintances. Acting on AIDS, a student group founded at Seattle Pacific University, now has chapters on five college campuses around the country, all committed to assisting people affected by AIDS. I am heartened to see such activism by the young.

We adults should be humbled and inspired by the very young. Children in Harambee's school and after-school programs have decided to raise money throughout December to sponsor two AIDS orphans in Kenya through World Vision’s Hope Child Initiative (worldvision.org). A sizable percentage of the children at Harambee are at the bottom of the economic ladder. But I've seen children give generously, and joyfully, when faced with a need like Edward's.

Children at Harambee know that, no matter how difficult their own circumstances, they are privileged compared to Edward. That's what World AIDS Day is about, extending our privileges to those who cannot even imagine a life without struggle for basic necessities.

 

The copyright for these materials are owned by Rudy Carrasco.  These materials were used with permission by TechMission