Release date
August 01, 2009

Advocates Deliver Care, Guidance to Zimbabwe Orphans

August 01, 2009, —

Children in Zimbabwe

who have lost their parents to AIDS face extraordinary hardships. But many have

advocates committed to helping them rise above their circumstances.

Students in Mutoko, Zimbabwe

Students of the Chipfiko primary school in rural Mutoko, Zimbabwe, study after receiving a school lunch provided by Catholic Relief Services. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

"In our work, we are trying to ensure these kids—despite

all the challenges they have faced and will face in their lives—develop to

their full potential," says Carolyn Fanelli of Catholic Relief Services in

Zimbabwe. Based in the capitol city of Harare, Fanelli is part of a team that oversees

CRS' HIV programs. CRS serves around 20,000 of

href="/zimbabwe/strive/">Zimbabwe's neediest orphans and

vulnerable children with programs that provide education assistance,

href="/zimbabwe/nzeve-youth/">HIV awareness, financial help,

href="/zimbabwe/response-economic-upheaval/">food security,

health care and counseling. Here she talks with associate web producer

Kai T. Hill about Zimbabwe's orphans.

Kai Hill:

Could you begin by describing the situation for orphans

and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe?

Carolyn Fanelli:

Most children here become orphans as the result of AIDS. However,

children in Zimbabwe can also be orphaned or deemed highly vulnerable because

of disability, early marriage, neglect, abuse or living on the street.

Overall, the numbers of children affected by HIV are staggering.

In December 2006, UNICEF announced that Zimbabwe has the world's highest

percentage of children orphaned by AIDS, with almost one in every four children

having lost at least one parent to the disease. This has led to a total orphan

population of 1.6 million children. Two years earlier, the government estimated

that approximately 318,000 Zimbabwean children were living in households headed

by children. This typically means that both parents have died and one of the

older siblings has assumed the parental role. In addition, approximately

165,000 Zimbabwean children are HIV-positive.

In working to meet their needs, I feel it is most important

to remember that these kids are first and foremost children. They love to play,

go to school, and cause trouble every now and again. The health and development

of children are the responsibility of all of us—and orphans and vulnerable

children need our help the most.


What are some of the hardships faced by orphaned children or

households where one or both parents have contracted HIV?


Orphans and vulnerable children face challenges ranging from lack of sufficient food to lack of overall parental oversight,

especially in the case of child-headed households. On visits to some

communities, the most obvious indication of child suffering I've observed is

when adult responsibilities have shifted to the child. Most often it's the

eldest child who bears the burden of caring for the home and his or her

siblings. You'll see them working in the field instead of going to school. Community

members do help out when they can, but often they are also burdened with caring

for other orphans.


How are these children coping with the challenges of

continuing their education, given the recent teachers' strike?


Teachers across the country were on strike for most of the

past year over wage issues and concern that they were not given sufficient

educational materials to do their jobs. Many left the country altogether.

Children, including many orphans, showed up for school but had no one to teach them.

Carolyn Fanelli with orphans and vulnerable children

Carolyn Fanelli (right) talks to a group of orphans and vulnerable children who participate in a microfinance program. Photo by Mark Adams for CRS

While monthly allowances of $100 have lured some teachers back,

we still have serious concerns about the quality of education. Very few schools

are fully functioning. Other children are fortunate to have parents with the

means to pay for private lessons or home-schooling, but orphans typically can't

afford this. Rural areas are the hardest hit.

Despite the country's economic hardships, education is

highly regarded here. The importance of getting an education is infused in the

entire society. Children want to be educated and believe it is critical to

their future.


Tell us of some of the ways that CRS helps serve orphans and

vulnerable children in Zimbabwe.


Instead of paying school fees directly to schools, CRS

provides schools with much-needed resources and classroom equipment in exchange

for allowing children in need to attend school. Providing aid for the entire

school avoids stigmatizing specific children. Our approach helps the entire

school. Assets, such as desks, are more valuable than one-time school fee


We have also made real progress in establishing "child-friendly

schools" at 33 schools. The idea is for HIV-positive children as well as

other students to develop criteria for making their school a comfortable,

welcoming place that meets their needs. Our aim is to create an environment

conducive to learning, that is free of stigma and discrimination, where kids

are disciplined fairly and everyone is respected. Another way we

help children is by facilitating support groups for HIV-positive children so

they have a safe space to talk about the challenges they face.

We also train their caregivers. We use materials that help children

better understand the antiretroviral drugs they take and the importance of

taking their medication every day. Our extensive referral network also allows us

to link children to treatment services and support options.


What do you see as particular strengths among orphans and

vulnerable children, their caregivers and their communities?


Children's dedication to going to school is amazing. I

recently visited a school in a township outside of the capital, Harare, that because

of the strike had only two teachers. I went inside one classroom and to my

surprise there was a full class of kids. They were as quiet as mice as they

waited for a teacher to show up. These kids so wanted to learn, and the fact

that schools are not really functioning is just a tragedy for them.

I've noticed that Zimbabweans have shown an amazing ability

to care for orphaned children. Almost every household is caring for one or more

orphans. Our volunteers are also amazing. They are poor, too, and many care for

orphans or other vulnerable children. But they are willing to spare some time

each week to visit households and check to see how the children are doing, and

find solutions when there are problems.

Many volunteers are parishioners and are motivated by their

faith to help their neighbors. They say that they or their children could be in

the same position and they would want to be taken care of as they take care of

others. People want to make a difference in someone's life. When they see a

child-headed household or a sickly parent, they naturally want to help.