I stamped on the brakes hard. Thanks to ABS my car stopped within inches of the car in front. Close! I wiped the offending tears from my eyes. The tears that had nearly brought me to grief. They had flowed naturally and spontaneously as I listened to a speaker on the radio describing how a family of five young children had watched their mother die slowly and horribly over a period of several months. She was all they had. Their father had gone, and now she was going. They did what they could to ease her suffering, to deal delicately with the indignities she had to endure. And when she finally drew her last agonising breath and left her wasted, skeletal, broken body, they were alone. Yet another sibling family.
The place is any number of countries in Africa. The disease is of course HIV/AIDS. The speaker was Stephen Lewis the UN Secretary Generalâ€™s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. A new orphan is created every 14 secs.
There is no welfare system to support them. Most of their adult relatives have already died or are struggling to cope with the symptoms. For these children, there is no one to give parental love and care, tell them a story or tuck them up in bed at night. No more mothering, no kissing better of a scrazed knee. Nothing but an empty space where mummy and daddy used to be.
Today, over 11 million children under the age of 15 living in sub-Saharan Africa have been robbed of one or both parents by HIV/AIDS. Seven years from now, the number is expected to have grown to 20 million. At that point, anywhere from 15 per cent to over 25 per cent of the children in a dozen sub-Saharan African countries will be orphans â€“ the vast majority of them will have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Children as young as 10 or 11 take on the roles of mother or father. In some cases courageous grandparents can fill in the gap, but often they are no longer around.
If you are reading this then you live in a developed country. HIV/AIDS is a problem but not a pandemic. This is because your society has access to drugs, condoms and education. The Africans, still reeling from the disruption to their old orders by European colonization, have not.
These citizens of Africa are, at heart, no different to you and I. Like you and I they have known grief and pain, like you and I they have known joy and happiness, like you and I they have known love. And like you and I they need food, shelter and a chance to be the best they can be. Right now they are doing the best with what theyâ€™ve got.
We are all a part of the human race. Why then do we, through the governments we elect and the huge corporations whose products we buy, refuse to lend our fellow humans a helping hand?
They do their best to help themselves.
Stephen Lewis visited a remote farm run by a group of women who were brave enough to declare openly that they were living with HIV/AIDS. They had banded together and ran a market garden producing cabbages, which they sold at a nearby market. Stephen asked them what they did with the surplus money they generated. There was an awkward silence. They couldnâ€™t believe that the answer wasnâ€™t obvious. â€œWe buy coffins â€¦.. there are never enough coffins.
We, as a society, spend ever-increasing amounts of money on distractions and more efficient ways of killing each other, but pay no regard to the indescribable suffering of our fellow human beings. Not much money at all will go a long way to providing drugs to help reign in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Not much money at all would pay school fees and provide food and although I don’t know how to do it, money must surely be applied to giving love, comfort and practical support to the millions of children who have been forced to take over the family responsibilities of their dead parents.
And what are we doing about it? Well WE, and that is all of us because WE voted in the current regime of western politicians, are doing nothing. Iâ€™m not sure how many billions are being spent on wars in the Middle East and the machinery of war in other parts of the world. But I do know that it massively exceeds what is being spent to aid our fellow human beings.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, â€œWe are one world and these children are our children. Their fate is our fate, each of us can make a difference. Everyone can help to save lives.â€
You, the reader, have the power to do something. Visit the Stephen Lewis Foundation website at http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org and decide how you can help. Our governments and our corporations have so far, not been forthcoming. We are all members of the human race. Letâ€™s act with humanity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Global AIDS Alliance www.globalaidsalliance.org
Global Action for Children www.globalactionforchildren.org