A family like any other

Children supported by St Peter’s Child Care. Photo: LWF
Children supported by St Peter’s Child Care. Photo: LWF

A program offering love and care to children orphaned by HIV and AIDS in South Africa

(LWI) – The notion of family in southern Africa is changing. The prevailing definition of a contemporary family now includes single-parent families, blended families and step-families.

St Peter’s Child Care program is based on the notion of what it calls re-composed families – groups of adults and children who are not necessarily blood relatives living together as families.

It is run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa and is part of the AIDS program administered by the Lutheran Communion in the region.

St Peter’s seeks to provide love and care for orphaned children affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic in South Africa through its long-term foster care program. According to the South African Human Sciences Research Council, an estimated 410,000 children were living with HIV in the country in 2012. Currently there are an estimated 1.9 million orphans who have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Providing a home environment and family setting

With seven homes and 32 children under its care, St Peter’s provides orphaned children with as normal a childhood as possible. They live in a home with a foster mother and siblings.

Three to five children live in a home environment in a family setting, as opposed to an orphanage or children’s home, explains program manager Adelaide Mangena. “Because of this, our children do not only have a sense of safety and security but also a sense of hope, belonging and identity.”

South African social welfare authorities screen and train potential “mothers” for the child care program.

Women start off as relief mothers to give them an opportunity to bond with the children before they are given homes of their own. The authorities identify the children who are sent to the families.

“The mothers are trained on how to handle the grief and trauma that they may experience with the children.” Each week, they talk a professor from the University of the Witwatersrand who then recommends training, if need be. “The children become part of a big family made up of aunts and uncles from the congregations and cousins from the other families.”

Congregations support foster homes

St Peter's wants its congregations to open foster homes for as many children as possible. As such, homes are spread across the diocese and are supported by various congregations. The St Peter by the Lake Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation supports two homes.

Senior pastor at St Peter by the Lake, Edwin Dedekind, said that when it started in 2002, antiretroviral medication was not easily available and a lot of money was spent acquiring it. “We have witnessed the miracle of ARVs – I remember how devastated my family was – especially my 12 year old daughter – when one of the HIV positive baby orphans we were looking after died.”

“We do everything we can for the best interest of the children. Our mothers are over 45 years old and their own youngest biological child should not be younger than 17 years,” says Dedekind

Younger children can be adopted. Where possible, this is encouraged.

Educating the children is expensive and in some cases they need to go to special schools that cater for specific learning or remedial needs.

When the foster mothers themselves are asked about the challenges they faced, all give a similar response: “We are a family like any other and we face the same challenges other families do – children misbehaving, squabbles and so on.”

Children with hope, dreams and ambition

At one of the homes, Mpilo*, 10, shows off his Easter school project, a picture of Jesus’ tomb with three crosses at Golgotha.  Outside, his brothers jostled to share news about their personal accomplishments, including a gold medal in athletics and ambitions to be a master chef one day.

In another family, 9 year old Mbali* shared her ambitions of one day becoming a medical doctor. At another home, Dante* declared that his favorite sport was cricket and that one day he would become a scientist.

The children all look to the future with hope, dreams and ambition which a few years ago they would not have dared contemplate let alone give voice to.

*names changed

 

By Bonginkosi Moyo-Bango, during a visit to HIV and AIDS projects of the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa. Edited by LWF Communications

World AIDS Day 2016