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Volume 7, No. 3WINTER 2004

‘I will not leave you as orphans’
Ethiopian children orphaned by AIDS receive care through new project

Samuel, 6, recently lost his mother and father to AIDS, making him one of an estimated 1.2 million AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. Here he talks to Dr. Mesfin Tegegne, director of the HIV/AIDS Program for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, IOCC's partner in its anti-AIDS initiative. Photo: Inia Asuncion-IOCC

Ambo, Ethiopia (IOCC) — Samuel, a 6-year-old orphan, tells of the recent death of his parents to HIV/AIDS and how lost he felt. He is outwardly “brave” and refuses to cry as he tells his story, but you can see the sorrow and pain in his eyes.

Then there is 19-year-old Joseph, who lost both parents to HIV/AIDS and must now take care of his three younger siblings. At a very young age, he became the head of the family.

Meleke, 7, a girl with HIV/AIDS from birth, recounts how she recently had been denied entry into school. In some Ethiopian communities, the suffering of people with AIDS is compounded by the discrimination that results from the stigma of the disease.

These are just three of the 9,000 AIDS orphans and vulnerable children that IOCC expects to help in the next three years through its new HIV/AIDS prevention and care project in Ethiopia. Funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the $6 million project is a collaboration between IOCC and the Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission (DICAC), the humanitarian arm of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

IOCC-Ethiopia is augmenting its program on behalf of AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children by delivering $1.8 million in new textbooks to schools run by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Here, an Ethiopian boy reads from a chalkboard in a rural elementary school. Photo: Inia Asuncion-IOCC

Currently, Samuel, Joseph, Meleke and 1,855 children like them are receiving help through a part of the project that places AIDS orphans with loving families. More children from 100 woredas (districts) throughout the country will be added to the program each year.

One of the devastating consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Ethiopia is the vast number of children it has orphaned. According to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on AIDS, more than 1.2 million Ethiopian children under age 15 have lost one or both parents to the disease. The number of AIDS orphans is expected to rise in the coming years. It is estimated that by the year 2010, 43 percent of all orphan children in the world will be HIV/AIDS orphans.

In its Ethiopia program, IOCC provides the caregivers with a monthly stipend to help them cover the cost of additional food, shelter, clothing, school fees and medical assistance, said IOCC-Ethiopia Program Manager Ken Baker. “Our program does not institutionalize the orphans, but rather places them with families,” he said.

The stipend amount varies from child to child, depending on the individual circumstances. In addition, trained para-counselors provide the orphans with counseling services as needed.

“Neither words nor statistics can adequately capture the human tragedy of children grieving for dying or dead parents.”

— Ken Baker,
IOCC-Ethiopia Program Manager

Recently, Baker and senior DICAC officials visited several branch offices in east and west Shoa, where orphan care and support is being provided. At each location, the orphans and their caregivers gathered to speak about their situations and how the IOCC program had made a difference in their lives. They spoke of their challenges and hardships, but also of how IOCC’s program had made their future look brighter and more manageable. The partnership between IOCC and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is creating opportunities for less fortunate children in Ethiopia who are the future of the country, Baker said.

Seven-year-old Meleke, denied admittance to a local school because of HIV/AIDS, talks to Ken Baker, IOCC-Ethiopia program manager, in the town of Ambo. Meleke and children like her are being matched with loving families and given resources to help them succeed. Photo: Inia Asuncion-IOCC

Neither words nor statistics can adequately capture the human tragedy of children grieving for dying or dead parents, stigmatized by society through association with HIV/AIDS, plunged into economic insecurity by their parents’ death, and left without services or support systems in impoverished communities, Baker said.

“It is difficult for those in the developed world to fully comprehend the extent of the suffering of these innocent children,” Baker said. “Children suffer psychological, social and material hardships because of HIV/AIDS. Some must care for dying parents, while others drop out of school to help with farm or household work.”

According to a recent study in Ethiopia, the many challenges faced by orphans include loss of family, depression, malnutrition, lack of immunization and health care, lack of schooling, early entry into paid or unpaid labor, loss of inheritance, early marriage, exposure to abuse, and increased risk of HIV/AIDS.

In Ethiopia and elsewhere, the extended family takes the responsibility of raising these orphan children. In many cases, the orphans are sent to different households to minimize the burden of caring for them, but this is traumatic for the children since they also lose the support of their siblings.

Furthermore, many of the extended families are already very poor or are headed by elderly people who depended on their (now deceased) adult children for survival.

Oftentimes, these extended families have to stretch their already minimal resources to provide not only for their own families but also for the additional orphans coming into their home, Baker said.

Dr. Mesfin Tegegne, head of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care for DICAC, and Ken Baker, IOCC-Ethiopia Program Manager, prepared this report.

IOCC’s $6 million anti-AIDS initiative in Ethiopia is being implemented in six of the eight major regions of the country, depicted here in the Amharic language at a rural elementary school. Photo: Inia Asuncion-IOCC

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